Decoding Food Labels: Read, learn, and play.

Decoding Food Labels: Read, learn, and play.

I often get asked, “how to get my family/spouse/friend/etc. on board with real food?” And it is a really valid question because sometimes the biggest hurdle to making real and lasting change is having the support of those around you. My husband has always been supportive of me, but didn’t necessarily “get it” at the beginning. Luckily for me, he eats anything. And he soon realized how much better real food tastes.

But I think what really got my husband on board was letting him see for himself just how corrupt, fake, and processed most of the “food” on today’s grocery market shelves really are. And now, he’s a bigger advocate for the real stuff than I am!

So how do you teach people the truth of processed food?

Simple. You show them.

It’s all fine and good to talk about the dangers of vegetable oils, the goodness of saturated fats, the dangerous of artificial food dyes and sweeteners, etc. But until you show people just how pervasive all that junk is there’s not going to be a whole lot of motivation for change.

Decoding food labels: A game for real foodies

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP! – the job’s a game!”   - Mary Poppins

It’s a simple game. Go to your local grocery store. Pick up a food “item” and read the ingredients. It’s even more fun if you search out the “healthy” labels and marketing tactics aimed to make people think something is good for them. Turn that package around and be amazed.

Here are just three products to give you some insight into the game. My husband played this round for me… he loves decoding food labels. It took him all of 3 minutes to choose these items.

“Heart Healthy”…. yeah, right.

I’m sure you’ve seen those “heart healthy” labels on certain packages. I remember, during my early college days, feeling proud to buy cereals, crackers, and the like with the little symbol on it. Obviously I was doing something good for my body, right?

Decoding food labels: Why you shouldn't trust "healthy" marketing tactics.


Check out this ingredient list for these “heart healthy” peanuts:

Decoding food labels: Why you shouldn't trust "healthy" marketing tactics.

Let’s see:

  • Cornstarch? Yeah, mostly likely GMO.
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)…. NOT good. Read more about that here.
  • Gelatin can be very beneficial (assuming you’re okay with animal products in your peanuts), when it comes from grass-fed animals, but how much you want to guess this is coming from CAFO meat pumped full of hormones and antibiotics? Yeah, skip it.
  • Torula Yeast? What’s that?  Although torula yeast isn’t a new discovery, it’s recently being added to foods as an MSG alternative (or in this case, additive). While an allergic reaction to torula yeast is not as common as reactions to things like MSG, reactions do still exist for some and may present itself as a high fever with fatigue, a rash or even a urinary tract infection. (source)
  • Corn syrup solids. GMO. Gross. ‘Nuff said.
  • “Natural flavors” Did you that MSG, Aspartame and bugs in your food are all considered “natural flavors” and “natural colors” (source)? Yep. Don’t trust the “natural” labels.

Somehow all this not-real-stuff is supposed to be good for our hearts? I don’t think so.

And consider how that little heart symbol makes it way on packages:

In a press release the AHA’s president, Gordon Tomaselli, said the program would make “it easy for consumers to make smart choices that are heart-healthy when eating outside the home, knowing they often don’t have the benefit of reviewing the nutrition facts.” The meal certification program is an expansion of the AHA’s Heart-Check Food Certification program, which was established in 1995.

AHA president, Gordon Tomaselli told USA Today about their meal certification program (an expansion of the AHA’s Heart-Check Food Certification program which was established in 1995). He says that certification can cost companies as much as $700,000 annually. In other words: “Healthy” marketing is big business. (source)


Multi-grain…. so what?

Remember a few years ago when “whole grain” and “multi-grain” were all the rage in terms of healthy marketing? I remember buying a package of mult-grain Wheat Thins (my favorite processed food of all time) and thinking I was doing good. But don’t let the hype get you.

Decoding food labels: Why you shouldn't trust "healthy" marketing tactics.

Let’s turn it over and see what’s really inside:

Decoding food labels: Why you shouldn't trust "healthy" marketing tactics.

Wow! That’s a long list! We don’t even have to go very far to know that we should not be eating this stuff:

  • Corn Flour…. most likely GMO
  • Vegetable oil. YIKES! This stuff is everywhere and, in my opinion, one of the greatest downfalls of healthy food options. Learn why I avoid vegetable oil at all costs here.
  • Hey look! Our friend MSG is back…. and “natural flavors.”  Ugh.
  • Cultured nonfat milk sound innocent enough… but remember why nonfat milk is really bad? No? Read this.
  • Then we have all the chemically sounding ingredients. Just skip those, friends.

Moving on….

Trim!? I don’t think so….

This was actually the first item my husband picked up. “What does 2% Trim even mean,” he wondered. Good question.

Decoding food labels: Why you shouldn't trust "healthy" marketing tactics.

Looking at the outside this reads as an innocent and simple food. I mean, cottage cheese… low fat…. trim…. Sounds healthy enough. Especially when you consider how easy it is to make cottage cheese, and how few ingredients it really takes.

Let’s take a look:

Decoding food labels: Why you shouldn't trust "healthy" marketing tactics.


  • Nonfat milk is not a surprising ingredient, but as a rule of thumb: If something naturally has fat, removing it is usually done through a very unnatural (and unhealthy) process. Even if this was the only ingredient, I’d skip this product completely.
  • Guar Gum is found in a lot of products, like organic ice cream… and in moderation it’s probably not the worst thing in the world, but still not something you want to eat all the time. Learn more here.
  • Citric Acid… sadly, most likely GMO.
  • Acetylated Monoglycerdies, Pamitate, and our good ole’ friend “natural flavor”…. no thanks.
  • Polysorbate 80 is an amber/golden-colored viscous liquid used as as an emulsifier or surfactant in foods, medicines, skincare products, vaccines… and, of course, mouthwash. It helps bind ingredients like oil and water to each other.

There are studies showing that it has been linked to infertility in mice, accelerated the maturation of female rats and resulted in severe ovary deformities, and an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and of tumor growth or recurrence in patients with certain types of cancer. (source)

Don’t get overwhelmed, get smart.

At first it can be terrifying to walk through a store and see how much fake junk is everywhere. It can be even more overwhelming if you are pulling these products out of your pantry and realizing the assault of not-so-good-for-you-man-made crap that is sneaking by as “food.” But don’t get overwhelmed, just get smart. Start by adding more real, wholesome, simple foods into your diet and let the processed garbage slowly go by the wayside.

Of course, if you ARE feeling overwhelmed, check out my ebook Processed Free. It’s the stress-free guide to real food. Really… stress free.

I promise, if you give it time it gets easy… even fun. And real food tastes a WHOLE lot better.

Tell me… what is your most heated “sneaky” label out there?

NOTE: Due to an never-ending cesspool of spam, I have made the tough decision to close comments 14 days after the original posting of all posts. If you have a burning question or are looking for support in your journey to healthy living, please join the Thank Your Body Friends facebook page here.

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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie


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