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Understanding Food Labels Part I

September 9, 2014 at 4:43 AM  •  Posted in Expert Advice, Inside Scoop, Tanushree Handoo by  •  0 Comments

Years ago Nestle brought Maggi to our homes. Despite my mother’s protests, Masala Maggi replaced homemade snacks in my life. Unfortunately several years later, the yummy noodles and several other tasty addictive packaged foods DID destroy my intestines further leading to several allergies. The road to healing and recovery has been long.

If your food has a long list of unpronounceable ingredients do you think your body is designed to digest it? Experts worldwide are saying no. However, human bodies are super intelligent mechanisms, so try making the switch from processed food to real food for a few days and let your body tell you how it feels!

Reading food labels is the first step to changing your dietary health. Know what the ingredients mean and how they affect your body. Shift away from food items containing preservatives and other unwanted chemicals.

Food companies go out of their way to repackage and market their processed food items as nutritious and “healthy”. These marketing strategies are rarely followed by improvements in the actual food quality. Therefore, we need to be diligent in knowing exactly what we are buying and putting into our bodies. Just by carefully reading and understanding food labels and ingredient lists, you can empower your nutritional decisions.

Here is simple list of food items we should avoid and replace as these common ingredients offer little to no health benefits and, in fact, may produce chronic health problems with regular consumption.

Here is a list of some items to watch for when reading labels:

1. Food coloring: Poses a veritable rainbow of risks

Designed to make foods more attractive, food colouring has an ugly side: caramel colouring.
Manufacturing involves the use of industrial solvents and carcinogens. Red Dye No. 3 is associated with tumour development. Red Dye 40 and Yellow 6 are closely associated with aggressive behaviours and impulse control problems in children.

2. BHA and BHT

These two similar chemicals are used to prevent oil-containing foods from going rancid. However, they also come with some serious concerns as they’re known carcinogens, having caused cancer in lab rats, mice, and hamsters. Avoid BHA and BHT at all costs.

3. Aspartame

If it says “Equal” or “NutraSweet”on the box, it’s better to steer clear. Aspartame is a chemical sweetener s loaded with phenylalanine, a neurotoxin that many scientists believe can alter brain function, cause behavioral changes in adults and even mental retardation in growing foetuses when used by mothers-to-be. If that wasn’t enough, the side effects of aspartame can also include headaches, seizures, menstrual problems and gastrointestinal distress. Check the ingredients list, knowing that corn syrup, beet sugar, dextrose, can juice, fruit juice concentrate and malt syrup (and more!) are all just sugar!

4. Partially Hydrogenated Oil

Partially hydrogenated oil and trans-fat are essentially one and the same. People don’t realize that a product can claim 0g trans fats as long as there is less than a half gram per serving. Steer clear (even if the product says trans fat free). Trans fat makes your food less likely to spoil, but it clogs your arteries, raises bad cholesterol and lowers the good cholesterol.

5. Parabens

Parabens are chemical preservatives most commonly found in cosmetics and beauty products, but oddly enough, they’re also found in many baked goods, like breads, cakes, pies, pastries, cereals and some processed meats. Designed to inhibit mold growth, there’s evidence to suggest that they play a contributing role in hormone-related problems, such as breast cancer in women and reduced testosterone levels in men.

6. Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a chemically created, flavor-enhancing protein substance similar to MSG, but whitewashed with a healthier-sounding name. The problem with HVP is that it contains hidden MSG, so you can still wind up sickening yourself with headaches, migraines, heart irregularities and so on. Two more members of the MSG family to avoid: autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed yeast extract – they too can make sensitive people feel awful.

7. Nitrites

Left unadulterated, meat will start to spoil and look pretty unappetizing quickly. Add some refrigeration and a layer of nitrites – and the shelf life, not to mention the fresh-looking red color, lengthens significantly. But what happens to the nitrates when humans ingest it? Well, not only do nitrites trigger headaches and allergic reactions, research indicates that a daily habit of nitrate-laden cured meats increases the risk of cancerous tumours. Although, naturally occurring nitrates, like those in some vegetables do not cause health woes, so feel free to eat your veggies!

8. Added Vitamins

Foods with “added vitamins” might make you think in terms of the benefits of fruits and veggies – but doctors say that we shouldn’t substitute these types of functional foods for ones that naturally contain these vitamins and minerals. Get your vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from real, whole foods, like veggies, fruits, whole grains and lean meats.

9. Cholesterol Free

Heart-healthy? Not really! Cholesterol-free labels are misleading in another way. Foods loaded with saturated fat or trans fats can claim they contain zero cholesterol, but they’re actually more of a threat to your heart and arteries than foods with a little cholesterol and less saturated fat. Instead eat fewer highly processed carbs and sugar, two major culprits of heart disease.


While carefully reading labels can help you make somewhat better choices, a much simpler approach is at hand – Stop buying foods with labels on them and make the switch to whole, natural, organic or local, grower-to-table foods. You’ll get exactly what your body needs and virtually none of the dangerous additives your body is better off without.

Lastly, remember this is part of your food lifestyle, so take it one day at a time and know there is always tomorrow to give it another go!

Click here for the second part of Understanding Food Labels.

I Say Organic. What do you say?

Tanushree Handoo is a certified health coach with a holistic approach to health and happiness. She received her training at Integrative Nutrition at New York City and is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Her passion is supporting people get back to nourishing food, self-care, activities and relationships that enhance their lives. She leads groups and workshops on Nutritional re-balancing and offers individual health and wellness coaching. If you want to know more about Tanushree, please mail us at or visit Tanushree’s website.

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