Label Reading 101 – Focusing on Sodium

July 30th, 2010 No Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, knowledge is power. This notion truly applies to gleaning a greater understanding of what’s in your food. The food label is your friend, so why not get to know it better. I suggest you pick up a package and learn more about some basics of the food you’re bringing into your house. You may end up changing your ways from what you discover. Today we’ll focus on sodium.

If you’re a newby to this, I suggest starting within the confines of your own home first. Trying this right off the bat in the freezer section of the supermarket might result in frost bite!! So be kind to yourself.

Ok, so take some packages of dried goods out of your cupboard, go get your reading glasses and get comfy. Consumers often make decisions on the fly by looking at splashy text, symbols and pictures on the package. Let’s focus on a few parts of the label to begin with – the nutrition facts table and the ingredient list focusing on the sodium. We’ll focus in on calories and fat another time. I suggest you not let the package design sway your decision but the product content.

I think people get psyched out of reading labels when they focus in on too many nutrients all at once. It’d help to develop a baseline comfort level of understanding how to read a label and build on that with time. Sound good to you?? That’ll be my approach.

Package Serving – How much of a product are you dealing with here? We need to find perspective. Is it 1 pizza, 1 bag of cookies, 1 can of soup, 1 box of cereal? Get an idea of how much is in the package and think about who in your household eats that particular food.

Nutrition Facts Table

Serving Size – Now, what is the defined serving size for that particular food on the nutrition facts table? Is it 1 slice of pizza, 2 cookies, 3/4 cup of soup, 1 cup of cereal? All of the numbers in the nutrition facts table are based on on this serving size. Now think about who eats what, how much of it do they have during a typical meal/snack. You see Grandad might have 2 cookies with his tea, your 17 year old son who doubles as a jock eats 3 slices of pizza at one go. You see where I’m going with this?? How many actual servings are consumed? You then need to multiply by 3, for the pizza example with your son. Got it??

Food Frequency – Now is this food an “everyday” food (or frequent), such as eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast each morning, or a once in a while food, let’s say pizza night is Friday night. All foods fit, but “everyday foods” nutrient profiles should generally be better for you than those considered a treat, which you indulge in once in a while. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care what’s in a “once in a while food”. But let’s stick with looking at labels of foods you eat regularly. When you get the hang of this review all of the food labels you bring into your home.

Ingredient List - By law this is listed by all ingredients in that product by weight from most to least. Now take a look at some of the products you’re focusing on. Are you seeing some trends here?

Note the following additives contain sodium: monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite/nitrate, sodium propionate and sodium sulphite. Are you surprised of the amount of sodium in the foods you and your family eats regularly??

Comparing Products at the Store - After orienting yourself to what info is where on food labels in the comfort of your own home begin comparing products you use with other brands in the grocery store when you need them next. You can start by choosing alternatives that have lower sodium right away.


I’m not getting into total amounts per day right now to keep things simple. My approach is a behavioural one – substitute a lower sodium food for a higher sodium one. Try incorporating the advice in yesterday’s post to lower sodium in your family’s diet further. You’ll be well on your way to retraining your palate to be used to lower sodium foods in no time!! I’ll build on this exercise in future posts and wanted to get you started. Once you get used to it, it’ll become second nature.

I have made snap decisions myself by making assumptions like choosing a pepper based rub for bar-be-quing – wrongo!! When I compared labels, that one had higher sodium per serving than the others. The nutrition facts table IS your friend, so get acquainted with it!!

Do let me know how it’s going for you and if you have any questions??

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