The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Shopping From Label To Table

Shopping From Label To Table

Dietitian Dialogues

April 28, 2013

by Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN

Here's my fantasy morning: I'd enjoy waking up, walking down the road to the farmer's market and filling my basket with fresh baked whole grain bread, a bounty of local, organic fruits and veggies, sustainable fish, and just laid eggs. Instead, and I'm sure you'd agree, we face real-world constraints on our diets where it's more likely that we'll wake up, get into ours car, drive to a supermarket and rush inside to grab bread in a bag and a medley of items in packages perhaps produced from across the globe. That may not be ideal… but it's real.

In our hurried lives we tend to shop more carefully for things that go on our bodies instead of what goes in them. When is the last time you took a pause to flip your food package over and read its label? Food shopping has become more like speed dating – racing around hoping to make a good choice but not really giving yourself enough time to take a closer look and evaluate what's best to take home!

For years, patients have said, "I wish I could take you food shopping with me," because this seemingly simple task could be complicated. That's why I wrote my book, Read It Before You Eat It, so that I could provide a sort of GPS of the supermarket to help shoppers select the healthiest foods and to clear up consumer confusion. 

So as with dating, here are some things to consider before you walk down the aisle: 

  • Although you've probably heard this a million times... don't shop when hungry – it can cost you extra time, money, and calories. The fronts of many packages look like billboards, carrying advertisements designed to catch the eye of the hungry consumer.
  • Plan ahead and shop for a few meals at a time to save you from having to make repeated trips to the store. In my opinion, it’s not obsessive if at breakfast time you’re thinking ahead to what you’re cooking for dinner.
  • Try to create a master-shopping list and save it on your computer or smartphone so that you can print out a copy and keep it on the countertop or fridge. This will enable you to circle items needed as you remember them and it will help prevent buying multiples of foods you already have in storage. 
  • Arrange your shopping list according to the layout of the store you shop in most frequently to avoid needing to backtrack. 
  • Choose foods that have ingredient lists shorter than the size of a novel, comprised of items that are recognizable. Although not all of the strange-sounding ingredients are harmful, it is a relief when you could look at a product and actually see what it’s made of, like a KIND(sp) snack bar or a bag of almonds, without even having to check an ingredient list. Glancing at the ingredient list, however, will tell you where the components in your foods are really coming from. 
  • When the calories look too good to be true, check the serving size. All too often, food companies list unrealistically small serving sizes to make their products more attractive. A half of a muffin is not a serving size, unless each muffin in that package is cut in half and wrapped accordingly. (Spoiler alert – don’t waste your time looking for those muffins… they don’t exist!)
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking that fat-free or sugar-free means calorie-free. When it comes to calories, in fact, these products can be costly, and may even weigh in higher than their original counterparts. 
  • If you have any questions regarding particular products or any concerns about health issues, ask to speak with your supermarket's Registered Dietitian (RD). If your store doesn't have an RD yet – let them know that they need one! Stores like Wegmans, Ingles, Meijers, and Weis Markets set great examples to follow. 

Learning to decipher food labels and understand what the numbers on those packages mean can help you to gain control of the health issues that trouble you today while preventing problems from creeping up on you tomorrow. Now let’s go shopping together…


Author Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN gives guidance without gimmicks and she makes sense of science. She is owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, with offices on Long Island and in New York City. In this role for more than thirty years, Bonnie counsels individuals and groups and she is an advisor to major corporations and food companies. Visit her website at You can also find her on Twitter @eatsmartbd.