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The Importance of Label Reading for Smart Grocery Shopping

It is very important for people trying to lose weight to gather information on the products they are eating. Food labels can help you determine the nutritional content of a food item. You can use them to compare different items by using the Nutrition Facts label to choose the healthier option.

Wynnie Hoodis, MS, RDN, provides great tips to label reading and grocery shopping for severely overweight people that are considering or undergoing bariatric surgery.
The Importance of Label Reading for Smart Grocery Shopping
Wynnie Hoodis, MS, RDN
Wynnie Hoodis, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She educates patients in preparation for weight loss surgery and post-surgery. In addition, she is committed to working with all of her patients to help establish healthier lifestyle habits for greater success in the long-term.

Learn more about Wynnie Hoodis, MS, RDN

Bill Klaproth: The many labels in our food can be confusing from serving size to ingredients to marketing labels. Here to explain nutrition labels and share grocery shopping tips is Wynnie Hoodis, a registered dietician at Garden State Bariatrics and Wellness Center.

Thanks for your time. We appreciate it. Why is it important to know how to read nutrition labels?

Wynnie Hoodis, MS, RDN: Thanks for having me. It’s important to know how to read a nutrition label because we need to understand what we’re eating, how much we’re eating, how many calories we’re consuming and it gives you a lot of good information on whether what you're about to eat it considered a healthy food or maybe not such a great choice.

Bill: It does include great information, but I feel the nutrition labels are hard to read. I feel like they try to trick us at times, so how should we be reading nutrition labels?

Wynnie: It's true. These nutrition labels are a lot of numbers, a lot of words that not everybody is familiar with on a day to day basis, so when you pick up a container or a package of food, whether it's frozen or in a box of crackers or even fruit, there are nutrition labels almost on every food item in the grocery store. When you're picking it up, you want to zero in on how many servings are in that container that you're about to eat and you want to understand the serving size. That’s really the key, understanding the serving size because the information for calories and fat and sodium and everything that you see on that nutrition label is for that serving, not for the entire container.

Bill: That makes sense because you look at it and go ‘this isn't too bad,’ but then, you have to understand the serving size is like a peanut.

Wynnie: Exactly.

Bill: What about the ingredients listed? So many big words hiding so many bad things. How do we know what all that stuff is?

Wynnie: That’s another good question. People ask me that all the time. What I tell folks is when you go into a grocery store and you're shopping, you really want to try to pick foods that are what we call whole foods and start with the original source, shall we say. When you're reading through the nutrition label, you want to understand those first few ingredients. Ingredients are listed in the order by weight. The first ingredient in that ingredient list on the nutrition label is the most product in that food. Let's say you're looking at a tomato sauce and the first ingredient is tomatoes, then you know this is mostly tomato. If the next ingredient is sugar or some form of sugar like co0rn syrup or high fructose corn syrup or something like that, then you know that without even looking at the grams of sugar in that food, you know there's a lot of sugar in that food product.

Bill: It’s good to know. I've also heard any words that end in -ose, that’s bad. Is that another tip or are there certain three letter word combinations we should look for?

Wynnie: Not so much the -ose ending, but things like partially hydrogenated oils, those are processed. They've actually taken a perfectly good oil and they've hydrogenated it in a lab to help increase the shelf life of the food product or make it taste a little bit better. That's my number one, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup is another one, you want to avoid that one as well. Sometimes you're looking at a label, let's say a loaf of bread and you see different words like ascorbic acid. That's vitamin C. Sometimes on that ingredient list, it can get a little confusing because we're not used to seeing vitamins necessarily listed out in their proper form, but if a piece of bread and cereal and things that are fortified, that has to be in the ingredient list as well. Sometimes words sound really foreign, it sounds like an awful lot of chemicals are being added to it, but it could just be that it’s a fortified food, meaning they’ve added some B vitamins, maybe they're added iron to it, vitamin D, so that’s something that you have to look for. I think we’re going to add some information on our website, so some of those trickier words I can include on our website when you're reading an ingredient list.

Bill: That’s really good information if someone is like I need one of those super decoder rings or something and I'm looking at that nutrition label. Let's switch to grocery shopping tips now. When it comes to grocery shopping, how can we make healthier choices when we’re walking through those aisles?

Wynnie: One thing that I always tell my patients, before you go to the grocery store, you should make a list. List out things that you want to buy for the week, what fruits, what vegetables, what lean proteins you're going to get, maybe what dairy items you're going to get, if there's a recipe that you want to make, you want to go with a list because the more you stick to that list, then you're not really going off into all these different areas and picking up something that looks good or that box has something catchy on it so you might try that. You're sticking to your list. Before you got to the grocery store, make your list. When you get to the grocery store, shop the perimeter of the grocery store first. That’s where you're going to find your fresh produce, that’s where you're going to find your refrigerated items like the healthy dairy foods, your proteins like your meats and fish that’s typically all in the perimeter. In the frozen food sections, sometimes that’s close to the perimeter or not, the frozen food section is good too. Frozen vegetables are healthy, frozen fruit is healthy. You just got to double check that when you're buying that food from the freezer section, let's say you're buying a bag of broccoli when you flip it over to the ingredient list, it should only say broccoli. It shouldn't say broccoli and all sorts of other things because that means they've added a lot of preservatives or things to make that broccoli taste better.

Bill: Those are great tips. Make a list, shop the perimeter first, and anything else?

Wynnie: Don't go hungry. If going grocery shopping can be a little overwhelming, try to go at off times when you know that it's not going to be overly crowded. Don't go starving because you might end up picking some things that you wouldn't normally pick up. Do not give in to any temptation to buy things at that checkout, snacks, and things that look like they're in small serving sizes but really, it’s a lot of empty calories that are sitting near that checkout. Try to avoid picking up anything at the checkout.

Bill: You are so right about that. They always try to get you at the checkout line. What about packaged goods? Let's talk about that for a minute. Stuff that comes in a box. That processed food is something we should stay away from, right?

Wynnie: As a general rule, the more you can get away from processed food, the better. A lot of food can be very convenient so I don't tell my patients that they can never have anything that comes out of a box because sometimes it can be a little bit easier. You want to understand the food that you're cooking with, you don't have to spend hours in your kitchen creating a pasta sauce, so that's something that you can find generally in the inside and interior part of the grocery store. You just want to read that nutrition label, make sure you're picking something that’s low in sugar, low in sodium, but generally, I would say just try to really load your carb up with fresh food products, dairy, good healthy proteins. Venture inward for tuna fish in a can, salmon in a can, crabmeat, all that can be part of a healthy diet. I know a lot of our patients like to eat beans or lentils and things like that. You can either make them from scratch and really have a lot of influence over how you're flavoring it, or you can get the low sodium canned versions. Those things you can venture in, healthy oils like olive oil and those things tend to be in the certain of the grocery store, but venture in every now and then and really stick to that perimeter.

Bill: Those are great tips. Is it potentially a good tip to say buy foods that don’t come with food labels on them because it’s generally fresh fruit and vegetables, right?

Wynnie: Right. You do want most of the foods that you eat, you want to see what they look like, that they're not in a box, so I would say yes. If you're not a big cook and you feel you can handle chicken breast and some fresh veggies, start there. You don’t have to have a lot of ingredients. You can just stick with a few ingredients. Fresh is best, frozen is good as well, and then venture again in that processed stuff you want to put on the bottom of your grocery list.

Bill: Fresh is best. I like that. Great information. Thank you so much for your time today. For more information about grocery shopping and nutrition label reading, please visit the Garden State Bariatrics and Wellness Center website at That’s This is Winning Through Losing, a weight loss surgery podcast with Garden State Bariatrics. I'm Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.