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Label Reading 101

Thank you all for your comments about last week’s Gerbil Story. I am glad you all enjoyed it. Continuing with our focus here on treating the body well and choosing nourishing food, let’s start today.

This is not about perfection, I remind you. This is about finding and choosing the foods that will work best for you. First, we want to remove all the items you are sensitive to; second, we want to nourish the body well; third we want you to reach your life goals. To do this we need to get control of the chaos around food and eating, and manage it effectively.

First step is when you buy the food. Many foods have labels and ingredient lists. Apples, oranges, carrots, and spinach do not. That is because they are sold the way God and Mother Nature planned them; they are whole foods, real foods. They are likely to be ok for you, unless you have other issues besides food addiction or sensitivity.

When a food is packaged and has an ingredient label, read and understand that label before you buy the food. If you can’t or won’t read the label or do not understand it, put the package back on the grocer’s shelf. Or take a picture of the label and send it to me; we can talk about it; but do NOT buy the product.

The FDA has very strict rules about what must be on the food label:

The Nutrition Facts Label must show:

  • Serving size (Consult the RACCto determine this)
  • Household measure/common household unit
  • Servings per container
  • Mandatory nutrients (total calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, total sugars, added sugars, protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron, potassium)

Manufacturers must display the ingredient statement on the same panel as the manufacturer’s information. The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight in a type at least 1/16” tall and easy to read.

First, the label shows the number of servings per container and the serving size. Some serving sizes have recently been changed because FDA noted that we eat more or less than the amount that was specified. Is the serving size listed consistent with  the amount you will eat?

Next it tells us the calories per serving. Compare that with other brands. All of the information on the label is based on the serving size listed. If you eat a larger serving, that means you’ll be getting more calories, carbohydrates, etc. than what is listed.

Total carbohydrate on the label includes all types of carbohydrate – sugar, starch and fiber. It’s important to use the total grams when choosing which foods to include. Below the Total Carbohydrate (carbs), you will find a breakdown of the types of carbohydrate in the food.

Added sugar is also a required listing, to help you know the difference between sugar that occurs naturally in the food and sugar that was added during processing. Some sugars and sugar analogs are not listed in the sugars list; for a list of sugars, call or email the office or order it on the website.

Fiber is the part of plant foods that is not digested – or for some types, only partially digested. Dried beans such as kidney or pinto beans, fruits, vegetables, and grains are all good sources of fiber. The recommendation for fiber is to eat about 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. But many Americans are only getting about half the fiber that they need per day. In general, more fiber per serving is better.

Sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol, and have fewer calories than sugars and starches. If a food contains these, it would be listed on the label under Total Carbohydrate. Foods that contain sugar alcohols or alternative sugars are not necessarily low in carbohydrate or calories. And, just because a package says “sugar-free” on the outside, that does not mean that it is calorie or carbohydrate-free, or free of a sugar analog (which is something like a sugar) that you may be sensitive to.  Always check the label for the grams of total carbohydrate and calories. And check the ingredient list for other sugar analogs.

Total fat tells you how much fat is in one serving of the food. It includes both healthy and unhealthy fats. Healthy fats (unsaturated fats like mono and poly unsaturated fats) help lower your cholesterol and protect your heart. Unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. When it comes to fat, try to choose foods with the least saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fats on the label. Too much of these “unhealthy fats” can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Saturated, unsaturated, and trans-fat are listed out on the label under total fat. One goal is to get twice the unsaturated fats (mono- and poly- unsaturated) as saturated fats.

But there is also hidden salt in many foods, like salad dressings, lunch meat, canned soups, chips, and other packaged foods. 2000 mg or less per day is the general recommendation.  Ask yourself: What part of my daily food will this product be? Will this fit into the recommendation? High salt foods help the body hold on to water, and you may feel bloated; they also can raise your blood pressure.

Ingredient lists are below this chart or next to it. This is the most important information on the label. Ingredients are listed in order by weight with the first ingredient being the highest amount in the food. If an item with several ingredients is listed, those ingredients follow in parentheses. And yes, they count. Most sensitive people cannot tolerate a product which has sugar (or any other allergen) anywhere in the first five ingredients. And if there are more than three sugar like products anywhere in the ingredient list, that is too much sugar!

And if the ingredient list has a lot of items, chemical like words, products you don’t understand, aren’t familiar with, or don’t know what they are, call this an ultra processed food and put it back on the shelf!

Clean out your kitchen today! Sugar is sneaky and versatile and hides itself well! Do what I call a “Food Audit.” Read the labels on every food you eat and get rid of the ones that have sugar in the first five ingredients, or that we would call ultra processed. You will feel so much better that you will be glad you did!

Use the label to give your body more of the nutrients you need! Your body will thank you! Be welcome to call or email me with questions. In the next weeks we will talk more about nutrients and the body’s needs.

Blessings to you.


2 Responses to Label Reading 101

  1. Donna Lanni June 21, 2023 at 1:34 pm #

    Thank you so much for the blog you sent today about label reading. It is very informative. Now I understand saturated and unsaturated fats. I was never really sure about that one. I am looking forward to going through my overcrowded cupboard and reading all the labels and eliminating all the foods that are not nutritious. Thank you for clearing this up for me.

    • H. Theresa Wright June 22, 2023 at 4:02 pm #

      Wonderful! I am so glad it was helpful to you!

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