Lesson 2: How to Read Food Labels

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First of all I want to start off by saying that for the best possible health, most of the foods you consume should NOT come in a box. They should be whole foods with minimal ingredients added.

Understanding what is in the food you buy is important. You want to avoid foods with any added preservatives, colorings, sugars, modified starches, etc.

If the name is hard to pronounce, it’s most likely something that you do not want to consume.

Let’s look at a few food labels and their ingredients. (click for larger)
Blueberry Flavored Yogurt
Plain Yogurt

Flavored Yogurt (left label): You can see 3 forms of sugar – Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, and High Fructose Corn Syrup along with “Natural Flavor” which could be anything.

Plain Yogurt (right label): With just 2 ingredients (and some LIVE beneficial cultures), you can see that this yogurt is a much healthier option. And NO “You don’t have to eat it plain”. Simply toss in some fruit of your choice and sweeten with a little stevia or honey…Yumm!!! Even better than the flavored store-bought variety!

Baked Cheddar ‘Fish” Crackers

Not even mentioning the flour that they first stripped all the nutrients out of and then synthetically put them back, you can see quite a few questionable ingredients on this label. Such as the Canola and Soybean oils. Also the yeast extract and spices which, further down this page, you will learn can be hidden sources of MSG.

Ingredients To Be “Aware” Of

Added Sugars

Sugars are hidden in a lot of foods, ones that you probably wouldn’t even think about. Such as canned soups, broths, fruit, store-bought breads and crackers, energy bars, etc. Be smart and watch out for these “added” sugars that you don’t need in your diet. Definitely look for anything ending in “-ose”, but also look for other not so obvious added sugars.

malt syrup
corn sweetener
corn syrup
high-fructose corn syrup
invert sugar

For more information on sugars/sweeteners, go back and review the Sweeteners section of this course.

Nitrites, Sodium/Potassium

Sodium nitrite is a common additive used to color most of the meat sold in supermarkets. Old meat generally has an off gray color, which retailers know is not very attractive. To counter this issue they add sodium nitrite to the meat to give it a red color (an illusion that it’s fresh).

MSG (monosodium glutamate)

This amino acid is a flavor enhancer that is added to many foods. It has been shown to destroy brain cells and cause headaches (among other things that are too long to list here).

MSG, an excitotoxin, is known by many names in the food industry – and they are adding and changing names all the time. All in an effort to keep you, the consumer, in the dark.

What is an Excitotoxin?
These are substances, usually amino acids, that react with specialized receptors in the brain in such a way as to lead to destruction of certain types of brain cells.

To Learn more about Excitotoxins, read the book Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, by Russell L. Blaylock

Hidden Names for MSG
Monosodium glutamate
Monopotassium glutamate
Glutamic Acid
Vegetable Protein Extract Gelatin
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP)
Autolyzed Plant Protein Sodium Caseinate
Senomyx (wheat extract labeled as artificial flavor)
Calcium Caseinate
Textured Protein
Yeast Extract
Yeast food or nutrient
Autolyzed Yeast

Other Possible Sources of MSG
Maltodextrin, dextrose, dextrates
Caramel Flavoring (coloring)
Amino Acids
Natural Flavors, Flavors, Flavoring Spice
Modified food starch
Flowing Agents
Soy Sauce or Extract
Soy Protein, Soy Protein Isolate or Concentrate
Protein Powders
Ultra-Pasteurized Dairy Products
and more
Artificial Colorings

Artificial colorings are added to foods to make them “look” prettier. But, the side effects and health issues are not worth it. These colorings have been linked to cancer, tumors, allergic reactions, etc.

Some parents that have children with ADHD have seen remarkable improvements in their child when removing all foods containing artificial colorings/preservatives. See the Feingold Diet Program for ADHD.

A Few Artificial Colorings to Watch Out For
FD&C Blue No. 1
FD&C Blue No. 2
FD&C Green No. 3
FD&C Red No. 3
FD&C Red No. 40
FD&C Yellow No. 5
FD&C Yellow No. 6

Hydrogenated or Partially-Hydrogenated Oils

Most of us have heard that hydrogenated oils are not good for us. But, do we really know the full extent of their effects on our health?

Research has shown that these changed molecular oils dramatically increase the risk of coronary heart disease, breast cancer, other types of cancers and auto immune diseases.

Mono-Diglycerides are just Hydrogenated Oils in disguise!

Lesson Assignment: Pick out at least 5 items from your pantry and read the labels, apply what you have learned. If there are food names you are not sure about look then up and see what they are. Next time you are in the store pick up your normal food selections and read the labels, you might want to select another item. A helpful iPhone App is called “Don’t Eat That”, it lists many many ingredients, what they are, and if they are harmful or not.

Share what impressed or surprised you in this lesson by leaving a comment below. We learn new stuff from food labels all the time.

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  1. Hi…I had already started cleaning out the old things from my pantry, frig, and mind over the 2 years, but it has been a slow process. I still had a few things with some of the list in them and they will have to go.

  2. sheilarobbe says

    I didn’t know there were so many different names and ingredients that contained MSG. Will be looking more carefully for all of these names and avoiding them.

  3. I don’t know what to eat when someone takes us out to a chinese restaurante. My husband loves chinese and we go every once in a while. I always get a headache by the time we are leaving the restaurant. I guess I should cook more chinese dishes at home and try hard to persuade my husband and others not to eat out.

  4. We have been changing our diet for the past 7 months and as i went through my cupboards i still found things that i thought were okay that had hidden ingredients. I had lime juice in my fridge with sodium benzoate, which is a preservative so i am assuming that it is something bad for us. Also i have never thought when it says flavorings that we should avoid them. I was looking at a can of chili beans and it has flavorings and modified food starch. Now i better start watching more closely.

  5. songdex1 says

    I had no idea monosodium glutamate went by so many different names! And here I thought yeast extract and calcium caseinate were healthy!

  6. We’ve avoided anything with MSG on the label for years because it gives my husband headaches. Now I think I know what may be causing some of the headaches he gets even when the label doesn’t say, “MSG”. The list of MSG by other names will definitely go with me to the store. Thank you!

    • Yes, there are many different names for msg, they have to keep coming up with new ones to hide it in the food. Where is the integrity?

  7. Headed to my pantry now! I hate to throw away food, but I hate worse the thought of allowing my body & my family’s bodies to be the trash cans! Thank you so much for the info. & the app. referral! No longer in the dark!

  8. Well, we had already started to clean out a lot of our pantry, but we did find some sad testimonies to the state of food in America today still present. Oops.

    If “Rice Maltodextrin,” and “Soy Lecithin” are both labeled “Organic” does that mean that they are still bad for us?

    • First everything that is labeled organic does not have to be organic. The FDA has started using a thought process like, if it is mostly organic then it is ok. Another one they use is, if the item is not available in organic form them it is ok to use. an example of this is organic beer, from what I have read there are not enough organic hops to go around, so the FDA say well try to get some and if you can’t it is ok and can still be labeled organic. In the case of the “Rice Maltodextrin”, I would draw the line and not use the product even if labeled organic. It is still sugar. Now that is my choice, you have to choose where to draw your line and remember it is ok to change the lines to more stringent as you feel ready.

  9. WOW, It sure makes me see that some things do need to change. I never really though that geting creamed soups would be so bad. I will be looking in to ways to make my own home made now.

    • Nita_o3, If you prepare you own foods at home it will most always be healthier. You are not going to add excess sodium and sugar, not to mention that you will leave out all the chemicals, preservatives, colorings, artificial ingredients. Keep an eye on the labels and move toward buying no processed foods. Keep up the great job. – Jeff

  10. jarider48 says

    Great confirmation for what I am doing and preach to others…I eat nothing that comes out of a bag or box and therefore, no labels to read! It has been a year process to get all the boxes and bags out of my life but food is a lot simpler now!

  11. Those ‘ose and sweeteners are often grain-based as I learned via discomfort. I’m sure hoping for some healing. I don’t intend to eat the way I did before, but it would be nice for my immune and digestive systems to be strong again. Just praying that we caught all this in time to prevent diabetes and blood pressure issues for my children.

    • TabithaT, it is never to late to let the body heal to reverse or prevent blood pressure and diabetes issues. My blood pressure was stage 1, after got tough with my eating habits my body lessened its inflammation issues and the blood pressure came down to normal. It did take some months to level. I have seen diabetes issues reversed by eating correctly. Lesson 4 deals with lots of good info on inflammation. So just keep working like you are and you can see great changes.

      thanks, Jeff

  12. One of my goals is to eat only food without packaging and this is why. I knew some of these things but others, well, I have seen them in my “healthier” foods and that is frightening, Guess I have gotten too lax.

    • Raemom, Great goal to work towards. What is exciting is raising you kids this way and having them keep it going. In the health trade we often comment that health food stores are some of the most deadly places, because people think everything is safe in the store and they stop reading labels.


  13. I have always been frustrated with the generality of the ingredients on food labels. I have heard most of this before, but it’s nice to have a list to take to the store of what not to eat! I am also frustrated with the fact that (take yogurt for example) most things with bad ingredients are made with lowfat/nonfat dairy products. The “good” ones are typically whole milk………i’m not a genius but, I don’t think it should take one either to figure out that lowfat/nonfat milk is SUPER processed! All the nutrients and healthy bacteria are cooked out!

  14. I am shocked. I have always tried to live by the if you can’t pronounce it don’t eat it rule, but now I know that some things I can pronounce are also harmful. I appreciate the other post that pointed out that just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s good for you. I will have to be more careful and read labels… That can be tough with a 2, 4, and 5 year old. Although if the ingredient list for lets say, yogurt, is to long for me to read in a few seconds I should just put it down and look at something else… 🙂

    • With all the food additives out there it can be hard to read labels and get out of the store in a timely manner. But you are right, the shorter the ingredient list usually means the better the food.

  15. I ran to the store for some beef stock, I like to make my own but I was out. I grabbed a box of beef broth that was labeled organic. I started reading the label and was shocked to see the Caramel Flavoring (coloring) and yeast something that I read in your post earlier today. I grabbed another box of beef stock “not organic” and it had basic ingredients, though it listed beef flavoring. I guess I will make a point to not run out of beef stock.

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