Last May I received an email from Bonnie Taub Dix, a dietitian based in New York, complimenting Fooducate on the information presented in the blog about nutrition labels and how to decode them. She told me she was writing a book on reading food labels, and a beautiful friendship ensued.
Today, Bonnie’s book, Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time, is available for sale. She sent me a copy of the book for review a few weeks ago, and I enjoyed reading through its chapters of practical advice on nutrients, ingredients, other labels such as organic, etc… My one caveat – I wish the book gave some examples of real food products and analyzed them. But hey, then what would this blog have left to do
Below are some interesting points Bonnie and I discussed.
[Fooducate] Where did you get the idea for the book?
[BTD] I was asked to write this book by my agent. A publisher came to him and asked if he knew of someone who could write a book that could decipher food labels and he thought I would be the perfect person to take on the challenge.
You shouldn’t have to be a dietitian, a mathematician, or a librarian to read a label. Although I must admit that the subject matter was not one of my favorites at that time, I’ve grown to know and love food labels and I hope my book helps consumers to feel that way too!
[BTD] Thank you for the compliment by even comparing my book to Marion’s! My book is very neutral – in over 250 pages, not even one brand name or manufacturer is mentioned. Consumers can use my book as a guide to shop any aisle, in any store, anywhere. It’s meant to be like a GPS of the supermarket…a complete resource about how to pick the healthiest foods.
In addition, I am thrilled to announce that my book cover carries a quote from Marion saying, “If the words on food labels seem hopelessly obscure, Read It Before You Eat It is just what you need. This book goes right on my shelf of handy references.” I was honored to have her blessing!
[Fooducate] What are your top 3 pieces of advice for a novice grocery shopper?
1. Don’t be fooled by the flashy front of the package — flip the bag or box over to get the real “facts” about what’s in the food you’re spending your money on and putting into your body.
2. Beware of buzz words like “free”, “natural” and “organic”, just to name a few. These terms are not always what they seem. In my book I have a whole chapter on misleading terms because they bug me the most! Bottom line: words like “free” could cost you unnecessary dollars and calories!
3. And of course, most importantly, Read It Before You Eat It (couldn’t help using that line!)
[Fooducate] You have 3 sons, did you take them/ still take them to the supermarket with you? How did you/do you handle excess requests for junk food?
[BTD] If you know me…you know I love food shopping! Ever since my boys could be propped up in a seated position, they have accompanied me to the supermarket.
During the early years, we made games out of the foods we selected, shopping for different shapes and colors (especially in the produce aisle) and as they got older, we moved onto comparing labels. Their preferences were always taken into consideration, with some requests welcomed, some compromised on, and some rejected.
Although (almost) all foods became potential purchases…certain foods, like candy and soda, were more like party and restaurant indulgences rather than regularly stocked at home.
Just another point, is that I also always got my kids involved in cooking with me, so it completed the cycle of making a shopping list, selecting the food, creating a yummy dish, and then cleaning up. (They weren’t great at the last part, but they excelled at the rest! The pay-off is that now, at 23, 20, and 15, they shop and cook for me sometimes, and it’s a glorious treat.)
[Fooducate] Are there foods / aisles that you recommend people DON’T look at the label, rather just enjoy?
[BTD] There’s something to enjoy in every aisle! In my opinion, not reading the label is like not taking care of yourself. Your health is a worthwhile investment that reaps countless benefits. The key is to try to blend together the enjoyment of what you’re eating with enjoyment of what you look and feel like. It’s a perfect mix.
[Fooducate] What’s your personal junk food fetish/weakness? (we won’t tell anyone;-)
[BTD] This question is tough for me to answer because I’m not a big ‘junk’ fan. I love rich, creamy ice cream and I adore a 72% cocoa or higher intense dark chocolate. Is that junk? That’s amazing stuff! I already know what’s in them…so I only use the labels of these foods to lead me to my favorite brands.
[Fooducate] What are the top 3 things you would change in nutrition labeling if it were up to you?
[BTD] I’d like to see natural sugars in milk, yogurt, and fruit separated from the “added sugars” derived from empty-calorie sweets; I’d like to see more realistic serving sizes listed because not many people eat only “1/2 muffin” or “1 cookie”; I’d like to see hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats eliminated from foods. (Labels that boast “zero trans fats” should contain zero…really and truly, zero.)
[Fooducate] Is there anything you discovered while writing this book that you didn’t know before?
[BTD] On the mechanical end — I discovered that it’s critically important to be passionate about what you’re writing because it takes your undivided attention, day and night, to write a book. On the educational side — I discovered that it’s really hard to read a label…it truly seems overwhelming at times, even to someone in the food business. But we are so fortunate to have this wealth of information in the Nutrition facts Panel, right on the packages of the food we’re buying. It’s so important and — it’s all there!
[Fooducate] Thank you!
Disclosure: Fooducate received a free copy of this book. Fooducate is mentioned as a resource in the book’s appendix.