Food Label Focus

by Deborah A. Klein

Here's What You'll Find Below:• Should you bring it home? Check the "big three."
• Is the package deceptive? Decipher dietary deception
Are ingredients dangerous? Learn about red flag ingredients

Food Label Focus

The labels on food can be your friend...or they can be deceptive. To know if it's an optimal food to bring home, check the food label for these 3 main items -- fat, fiber and sodium.

  1. Fat
    Follow Deborah's "3 rules" to choose low-fat foods! Look on a food label for the total grams of fat; multiply that by 3, add a 0 at the end or move the decimal place over to the right. Compare that number with the total calories, if less than the total calories, it's less than 30% calories from fat = LOW-FAT. Example: 5 grams of fat, 180 calorie food; 5 X 3 = 15, add a 0, = 150; 150 is less than 180 so this product is LOW-FAT.

  2. Fiber
    Fiber is your best friend for increased satisfaction; high fiber foods give you more for your chew! Aim for 3 grams or more of dietary fiber per slice of bread/per snack-for example, crackers, sports bars, and 5 or more grams per serving of cereal or per meal.

    High fiber starches include whole-wheat couscous, sprouted grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, amaranth, barley, bulgur, brown rice, yams, or winter squash.

    High fiber fruits include S or S fruits (edible skin or edible seeds fruit): apples, strawberries, blueberries or oranges (get bioflavonoids and fiber from the white part of the orange).

    High fiber vegetables: Focus on eating one cruciferous vegetable daily, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale, mustard greens, rutabagas and turnips. Numerous research studies show these offer protection against certain cancers and they are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals).

    Follow the rainbow of colors when choosing your weekly fruits and vegetables to provide a variety of vitamins and minerals (for example, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, chard, kale, collard greens, zucchini, red/yellow bell peppers, apples, berries, pears, oranges, limes).

    Aim for 5 a day for your fruits and vegetables. Have 2 fruits and 3 vegetables daily.
    • One serving of fruit equals 1 small fresh fruit (2 inch across), ¼ cup of dried fruit (try to buy naturally dried, unsulfured) or ½ cup canned in it's own juice or ½ cup fresh fruit or ½ cup unsweetened fruit juice (100% juice). Have a maximum of a half cup juice per day mixed with water to prevent the calories from adding up so quickly. Eat your fruit rather than drink it, so you get the fiber and increased satisfaction.
    • One serving of non-starchy vegetables is ½ cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 1 cup of raw vegetables.

  3. Sodium
    Try choosing low sodium foods more often: Aim for less than 150 mg per serving on most products and less than 400 mg sodium per serving for frozen foods. When a food is higher in sodium, please drink a lot of water to flush the sodium through, and balance that high sodium food with lots of vegetables to provide even more hydration and fiber. If you have hypertension, aim for less than 2,000 mg or 2 grams of sodium per day.

Learn the 3 D's -- Deciphering Dietary Deception!

Before going grocery shopping, prepare yourself with the dietary deception on food labels with specific ingredients to look for and specific foods that cause concern.

The key words to look for are Lite, Free, Diet and Sugar Free. These words often translate into a packaged food that is not clean (meaning contains chemicals that may be carcinogenic, low in fiber (has no satiety value) and can actually increase your appetite, not conducive for weight loss).

If you see the words diet or sugar-free on the food product, keep it on the store shelf. Diet foods contain artificial sweeteners that can stimulate appetite and often contain artificial colors or flavorings that have been linked to ADHD and cancer. Sugar-free contains artificial sweeteners,
Dietary deception is most prevalent in the breads, cereal, crackers, frozen and dairy department.

Some examples:

  • Baker's Inn 9 grain bread (you would think there would be at least 3 grams of fiber per slice, nope only has 2 grams of dietary fiber per slice, mono and diglycerides, and 210 mg sodium per slice).
  • One of the most known diet foods, "pinch an inch," Special K Kellogg's Cereal (has less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 220 mg sodium, and high fructose corn syrup).

Specific Food Labeling Tip to not be fooled by packaging: Look at the grams of dietary fiber for all starchy foods (e.g., bread, crackers, cereal, rice, pasta), grams of fat, milligrams of sodium on all packaged foods, and the ingredient list.

Red Flags

Red flags to look for in the ingredient list on labels and why:

Artificial colors/flavors -- Yellow #5, Red #3, Blue #1, Green #3, etc. -- some are suspected of being cancer causing, and may exacerbate hyperactivity

Artificial or processed sweeteners -- Acesulfame potassium, Aspartame, Saccharin, Stevia, Splenda, sucralose, sorbitol, acesulfame, xylitol = may increase risk for cancer.

BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) preservative -- hepatotoxicity (liver toxicity) induced by the anti-oxidant food additive, may increase risk of cancer, and when BHT was applied to the skin, it was associated with toxic effects in lung tissue

Caffeine -- increases blood pressure, may cause insomnia if ingested late in the day, may affect the developing fetus, mildly addictive, can cause excess energy or hyperactivity in some people

Carmine or cochineal extract -- both are derived from female cochineal beetles, which are raised in Peru, the Canary Islands, and elsewhere. They provide a pink, red, or purple color to foods, may be declared as artificial color or color added on food labels and may be allergenic

Cocoa processed with alkali -- processes out the benefits of cocoa, the antioxidants (catechins) are leached.

Dough conditioners -- additives to help improve the quality of the finished dough= may include carcinogenic agents, for example, potassium bromate and may include emulsifiers such as mono-and diglycerides which include saturated fats

Enriched, bleached flour equals processed bread. Refining destroys some of the nutrients originally present in the whole grains, enriched with some vitamins but not all those present in the original grain

Flaxseed (whole not grounded), flaxseed oil. When the flax is whole, it goes right through, the body does not get the benefits of the omega-3's, flaxseed oil may increase cancer risk due to high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) -- Panax ginseng's most common side-effects is the inability to sleep. Other side-effects include nausea, diarrhea, euphoria, headaches, epistaxis, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, mastalgia, and vaginal bleeding.

Deborah A. Klein, MS, RD is the world's first Livitician®, a term she coined as an alternative to dietician. Her mission is to educate others on achieving optimal wellness through balanced eating, intrinsic coaching and exercise. Deborah holds Master's of Science degree in Foods and Nutrition with an emphasis in sports nutrition. Deborah has a private practice where she educates and offers her clients "A Plan to LIVE for!" She is also the "Ask the Nutrition Expert" at Pregnancy.org.

Deborah lives in Southern California. She is a mother of 2 boys, Hayden (7 years) and Eitan (5 years).

Copyright © Deborah A. Klein. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.