Lya Wodraska: Labels provide key to healthy diet

This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

January is one of the most popular months for people to make efforts to improve their health thanks to New Year's resolutions.

Getting into a workout routine is great and a wonderful way to improve one's health. However, there is an easier, more effective and less time-consuming way to help yourself — read labels.

Look at it this way, most people spend maybe an hour a day in the gym working out. What you are doing the other 23 hours will either maximize or minimize that gym workout.

If you exist on a diet of junk food and work out, that caloric expenditure is going to do little to improve your health if you just replace those junk calories burned with more junk calories.

Furthermore, a lot of additives, preservatives and artificial sweeteners are a burden to the organ systems that have to metabolize these foreign substances which causes stress and turmoil to the hormonal system which in turn can lead to weight gain.

Now, while you are in that resolution-minded mode, get into the habit of reading labels and avoiding products that are going to hinder your health gains.

Here are some of the top items to watch for in your label reading adventures.

1 • Look for the organic label and buy as much organic items as you can afford, with a priority on meat and dairy products then the Environmental Working Group's 'Dirty Dozen,' list. This will help you avoid foods laden in pesticides, genetically modified foods and many additives that aren't allowed in organic foods.

2 • Look for the Non-GMO label. The increasing use of genetically modified foods is one of the most controversial topics in our health care system today because there is a tremendous amount of suspicion that these modified products have harmful side effects. Many countries are banning GMO foods as a result.

Keep your food safe by looking for brands that are supporting the "Non-GMO project." Their food items are emblazoned with the green, white and blue "Non-GMO," labels which can be seen at

3 • Check the sugar content. In general, I recommend keeping sugar content around 25 grams a day for those watching their weight. Once you start reading labels, you'll be amazed at how much sugar is in items such as bread, cereal or "healthy" granola. Remember, sugar that isn't burned is stored as fat, so limit your sugar intake to make big improvements on the scale.

4 • Maltodextrin or modified corn starch. A sugar additive primarily used to increase thickness and mouthfeel, these products are made out of a starch, often corn or rice, and can cause allergic reactions such as hives and rashes to those who are sensitive to wheat or corn because the chemical structure is similar.

Companies love to use these additives because they are ways to add sugars and replace fats in so called "health" foods.

They are also easily absorbed into the blood stream, meaning if they isn't used quickly, it will easily store as fat.

5. Sodium Nitrate. This preservative commonly is used in lunch meats, smoked meats and other processed products as a red coloring agent and for flavoring. The USDA tried to ban the additive in the 1970s because of the belief sodium nitrate is a carcinogen, but was stymied by food manufacturing companies because they said they had no alternatives for preserving packaged meats.

Look for meats that say "no nitrates," or buy organic meats to avoid this additive.

These certainly aren't the only ingredients I urge you to start noticing, but it is a good jumping off point. If you get confused about what is good and bad, just remember, if it isn't something you can't pronounce or isn't something you can make in your own kitchen, it probably isn't good for you!

Lya Wodraska is a certified CHEK Practitioner and holistic lifestyle coach. Email questions to; Twitter: @LyaWodraska.