De-coding Nutrition Labels


BY Katie Morell

Nutrition labels drive me nuts. I try to buy as much produce as possible, but there are a few things I prefer boxed or canned. The problem: I never know if what I’m reading means the food is healthy or not. And apparently I’m not alone.

“There is a ton of confusion around nutrition labels,” says Tara Coleman, a San Diego-based clinical nutritionist. “There is so much on them that it can be overwhelming.”

Read on for Coleman’s label-reading cheat sheet.

Stick with short lists

Try not to buy products containing more than five ingredients, recommends Coleman. And avoid items containing hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup and enriched flour.

“Hydrogenated oil is a trans fat, which, when consumed, becomes part of our bodies,” she says. “Nutrients go back and forth across our cell walls and when that fat hardens the walls, nutrients then can’t get to the cells, often leading to problems such as heart disease.”

Watch the serving size

Be wary of food packaging that claims “0 grams of trans fat,” says Coleman. It may really mean 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

“And if the serving size is tiny, you will be consuming more trans fat than you think because you may be consuming more trans fat than you realize ,” she notes.

Stay away from unrecognizable ingredients

Ever caught yourself reading an ingredient label and thinking, ‘Well, I don’t know this 27-letter word, but I bet the additive isn’t that bad’? Me, too.

“If you don’t understand the word, don’t eat it,” Coleman recommends. “Take bread for instance. There is some crazy stuff in there. It should just be wheat, flour and salt.”

Take note of fiber And sugar

Protein bars and cereals often contain just as much sugar as last night’s dessert. Coleman suggests choosing items with equal amounts of sugar and fiber.

“Sugar will wreak havoc on your hormones, cause cravings and be stored as fat where fiber will turn into long-term energy,” she says. “Make sure amounts are about the same so you can counteract the affect of sugar. The more fiber the better as it is great for your heart.”

Katie Morell is passionate about issues relating to women’s health and wellness. As a runner and yoga practitioner, she tries to live by the advice given in her Go Red pieces. When not lacing up her sneakers or doing a downward-facing dog, she is writing for a variety of publications including Hemispheres, USA Today, Consumer’s Digest and The Writer