Wining & Dining
What’s Hiding in Your Pantry? Deciphering Labels & Ditching Processed Foods
1/1/2020 1:00:00 PM


The start of a new year can bring newfound courage for difficult tasks – such as tackling the pantry!  It’s the perfect time to ditch some of the heavily processed junk food and stock up on healthy options. But how do we get past the fancy marketing claims and find the truly nutrition-packed foods?  Empower your grocery store purchases by learning to decipher the food labels.  

Dr. Anatole Karpovs, a local pediatrician and Certified Culinary Medicine Specialist, believes in using food as medicine. "When shopping, search out healthy options,” he says. "It’s important to go straight to the ingredients list and nutrition label. Some may need to look for food allergens, while others must watch for excess salt or sugar. Families have the power to promote overall wellness or illness . . . depending on what we choose to put on our plates daily.  Adding in plant-based foods, splurging on quality ingredients, and limiting processed and pre-packaged foods can really improve our health.” He goes on to say that nutritional knowledge can promote positive eating behaviors and help reduce disease-related symptoms and complications from migraines, diabetes, ADHD and heart conditions. "No single food in moderation (like a piece of birthday cake) will make or break your health, so enjoy your foods, and choose nutrient-dense options with fiber, healthful fats, whole grains and low to no added sugar as often as possible.”


Federal regulations require food manufacturers to include a label about the nutritional profile and ingredients contained in the package. In 2016, the FDA updated the food and beverage labels to make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices. With that came the addition of labeling added sugars.  Here are key points to consider when reading a label:

Serving Size

This is listed at the top of all food labels. Putting portion size into perspective is one of the most important parts of the puzzle. Often serving sizes listed are far smaller than what most people eat. For example, if 1/3 of the bag of trail mix is a serving, but you eat the entire bag, you must multiply all of the values by 3! Suddenly your snack becomes more than a meal.


Focus on the quality vs. the quantity of calories.  If the calories come from healthy fats and whole grains vs. saturated fats and added sugars, then you don’t necessarily need to pass on the food.

Total Fat

The number is not as important as the type of fat. Saturated fats and trans fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.  


The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 300 mg of daily cholesterol.  Whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables are naturally cholesterol-free. 


General guidelines encourage 1,200 to 1,300 mg of sodium per day with a maximum of 2,300 mg (the amount found in 1 teaspoon of salt or less). Breads, canned soups and crackers often contain high amounts of sodium. 

Total Carbohydrates

These are broken down into dietary fiber and sugars.  Whole grains are best. Limit added sugars. 


Adults should get 10-35 percent of their calories from protein, but most Americans consume far more than our bodies need.  Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of protein without the cholesterol. 

Daily Values

This is usually based on a 2,000-calorie diet.  The percentages can be used to determine if a food or drink is high or low in nutritional content.  

Ingredients List

Ingredients are listed in order by weight, so make sure the top 3-5 ingredients are not from saturated fats, hidden sugars or salt.  Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what you are eating since added sugars and fats can be listed under different names. 

Stephanie is a local speech-language pathologist/pediatric feeding therapist and wellness coach.  She enjoys helping families become happy and healthy adventurous eaters. 



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