Your Food Flashlight

By Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

While co-teaching a five-day food and nutrition intensive, a student approached me in tears. “How do you eat anything knowing all that you know?” After a long pause, I offered, “Knowing what I know actually makes it easier. Then, educated choices are possible.” She was listening. “Picture a pitch-dark tunnel you must walk through. Do you want to do so with a flashlight or without?” She replied, “With a light of course.” I added, “Well, the tunnel is nourishment, do you want to make your food choices in the dark or with some light?”

The answer is clear: knowledge is your light and your power. So let’s shine:

A Light on Labels

With a little help from Food Labeling and Hogwash, 5 Ways to Choose Your Food, and Ingredient Labels Matter (need link), you have some new tools to help you read labels differently. The ingredients tell the story of your food, not the Nutrition Facts panel or barrage of claims on the packaging. If you are not sure what an ingredient is, don’t buy the food. LIkewise, if the list is too long (more than 5 to 7 ingredients excluding herbs and spices) then your choice is likely too processed for picking. Keep things simple.

A Light on Shopping

Try not to shop when you are hungry; it’s a surefire way to make impulse choices. Go into the market armed with a list so your trip is guided. Consider this when you hit the market:

- Fresh Is Fabulous: consume whole fresh foods 70 to 80-percent of the time.

- Pass on Processed Foods: if the ingredients read like a short novel, skip it. And avoid anything artificial (for far more detail on this, you can pick up a copy of my book, What The Fork Are You Eating?).

- Use Shortcuts: Opt for frozen produce if necessary and/or canned beans to make cooking a little quicker and easier.

- Eat What You Like: take pleasure in what you eat to truly nourish mind, body, and soul. If you prefer white rice to brown, dabble in the white. Total restriction is never a solution.

The ingredients tell the story of your food, not the Nutrition Facts panel or barrage of claims on the packaging.

A Light on Transparency

Food transparency can be hard to come by; don’t be afraid to inquire about a food or product ingredients by referencing the phone number on the manufacturer label. If the company is willing to thoughtfully address your questions, you have a choice. If they refuse to answer your questions, or give you the runaround, the choice has been made for you. If you are purchasing fresh food at a market, you have the right to inquire about the truth in the organic label; many farm stands and farmers markets loosely label their offerings as organic when in fact they are not. Question if your fish labeled “local” is in fact just that. FYI, there is no such thing as organic fish (ie. salmon). Ask whether your pasture-raised and/or grass-fed meats are certified by a third party, and even what farm they are from. While the ignorance-is-bliss-approach may feel more comfortable, with this knowledge, you become armed to make an educated choice.

Consume whole fresh foods 70 to 80-percent of the time.

A Light on You

Shifting what and how you eat is not easy. Food is emotional and behavioral and something we all must do to survive, multiple times a day. Show yourself some grace by honoring your starting point and celebrating what you can do. Small changes lead to big differences in the long term. With continued edible enlightenment you are on your way to making better-for-you purchases and getting healthier.

Explore More

Discover All