Posted by & filed under General, Recipes.

We live in a fast-paced, go-go-go world where every second counts. Whether you are a parent juggling raising a family and having a career or an on-the-go business person, many people find themselves with little time to cook. People tend to grab the most convenient option from frozen dinners to instant boxed meals. Most such foods contain highly refined ingredients that have been stripped of their nutrients, and in many cases are actually toxic. This leads me to a question which I get asked frequently.  How do I know which ingredients I should avoid when reading food labels?


This seems like a simple question, but it’s actually quite complex. To start, there are ingredients which have been widely reported as being toxic for the body such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial flavors. Then there are a wide variety of ingredients that most people have no idea what they actually are, such as autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed protein. These are called hidden additives. Both autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed protein are hidden sources of MSG! Recently, I saw a can of Campbell’s soup, and it said “no MSG” on the label. I had a suspicion, and sure enough there was autolyzed yeast extract on the label. MSG is in most processed foods, and it has many names including “natural” flavors.

MSG is particularly dangerous since it is an excitotoxin. This means that it overstimulates your brain cells, causing them to over-fire and die. Many common issues such as migraine headaches, nausea,  rashes, and brain fog have been linked to MSG consumption. More serious issues such as burning, tingling, and numbness–due to MSG being toxic to the central nervous system–often get misdiagnosed as other disorders. This can even lead to medications being prescribed for conditions that may be avoided by simply eliminating this harmful toxin.

Then we have the word artificial. This is not so hidden, yet these toxic substances such as sweeteners, colors, and flavors get consumed on a regular basis by a large number of people. If you see the word artificial, it is indeed not natural, and most likely has been made in a lab. Food is something that is best found growing in the ground. Dirty marketing is another problem. Those pretty pink, yellow, and blue packets are actually quite deadly. Take sucralose (Splenda), the “it’s safe because it’s made from sugar” artificial sweetener. The part they forgot to mention is that it is made from one sucrose (sugar) molecule, and four chlorine molecules. What happens to the chlorine when you ingest it?  Like any poison it has to be processed by your liver and kidneys. The damage occurs over time. Aspartame (Nutrasweet)  has been linked to headaches, memory loss, blindness, tumors, and even death. The ironic part about these “diet” sweeteners is that they cause your body to crave carbohydrates. The body thinks you consumed sugar, and releases insulin to lower your blood sugar. When this happens, you become hungry and reach for carbohydrates as a quick-fix. 

Then there are fillers, isolates, emulsifiers, flavorings, and stabilizers such as maltodextrin, modified starch, soy protein isolate, and malt flavors. These additives often come from corn, soy, or wheat, and are typically genetically-modified. Since they are in everything from supplements to packaged foods, our bodies become overloaded with these highly-refined ingredients. When our liver and immune system become saturated, antibodies to common foods such as corn, soy, and wheat are produced. Suddenly people find themselves unable to eat these foods. Isolates such as whey and soy protein are in protein powders, energy bars, and baked goods. Chemicals, heat, and pressure are used to remove the protein from the original source. These isolates have been refined and processed so much that they are no longer recognizable by the body as food. 

Most of the additives I have discussed are found in dried, processed foods. In the next several weeks I will get into refined ingredients found in meat, poultry, and dairy products such as hormones, nitrates, and more. The topics of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and fat are so huge that they will have their own postings. In the meantime, remember that the best solution is to eat food in its most natural form, and when eating boxed foods, READ ALL LABELS

To end this post on a sweet (but not too sweet) note, try this recipe for raw chocolate nut brownies. It’s quick, simple, and best of all it’s made with whole, unprocessed ingredients. 

no-baking-required chocolate nut brownies

1/2 cup raw almond nuts ****

1/2 cup raw walnuts ****

1/2 cup raw hazelnuts ****

****soaking nuts in sea/Himalyan salt makes them more digestible

1 cup medjool dates, pitted

1/2 cup almond butter

5 tbsp organic unsweetened cocoa powder

4 tbsp shredded coconut, raw and unsweetened

directions: Put all nuts in the food processor until finely ground. Add dates, almond butter, and cocoa powder until completely mixed. Press mixture into an 8 x 8-inch square pan. To make more pie-like, use a round pan. Sprinkle with coconut. Cut into squares, and it’s ready to eat! It also tastes delicious chilled.  



14 Responses to “what’s in a label?”

  1. nicole squartino

    Thanks for the information Shoshanna. I just know you were thinking of my putting that Splenda in my tea while we were eating out :)

  2. gatto matto

    thanks so much for starting up this blog and informing us. you’ve opened up my eyes to something new with this post. i never knew this and i’ve spent a little time researching, can’t believe i didn’t know before. i’m finishing up a bag of “organic, all natural” pita chips that some friends bought, and today i looked at the ingredients..

    sure enough, autolyzed yeast extract and maltodextrin. holy *$%#! this is USDA certified organic? maybe that’s why the USDA got so uppity about requiring an official government sanctioned “organic” label… so big conglomerates can get away with putting garbage into our foods again and fool consumers.

    now we have to be even more educated and careful, the organic label no longer means what it used to.

  3. health nut

    Shoshanna, you’re an excellent writer, communicator, and teacher. Today was the last “it’s ok it’s sugar” packet I’ll put in my iced-t! Looking forward to more!

  4. Lucia

    What an amazing post Sho!! I love reading this stuff! It’s a wealth of knowledge that everyone should be aware of. Awesome job!!!

  5. sho

    Thanks! Yes, even organic does not mean MSG-free. It’s truly dirty. This is why most boxed foods are problematic. Keep reading those labels, and telling everyone that you can. Eventually, the public will realize that they are being duped by large corporations who put $$ before health. Also, yay for putting down those little yellow packets, that is another scam! Most artificial sweeteners have a shady history of how they got approved, and should never be ingested! Stevia is the safest and most natural alternative to sugar. It’s an herb, and not manufactured in a lab.

  6. alicia

    Hi Sho! Great article, i have a question about whey.
    I want to take whey protein, but I’m not sure what kind is best. I see different names like, whey concentrate, whey isolate, hydrolyzed whey. You mentioned whey isolate is not good~which I figured, since you told me soy isolate is not good either. But what about the other 2, whey concentrate and hydrolyzed whey.
    Is there any names/brands you would recommend? Or is there a better source of protein you recommend?
    Thanks so much, Alicia

  7. sho

    Most whey on the market is isolated or hydrolyzed. The protein is put under a lot of pressure and heat to separate it. This changes the structure of the protein into something less desirable. Hydrolyzed (any protein) is a hidden source of MSG as well. That’s why I usually recommend hemp or rice protein. You can try Nutribiotic brown rice protein powder or Nutiva hemp powder. There are other good products out there as well.

  8. Jason

    Very informative. I really enjoyed meeting you today and know that I have a ton to learn about food. I can teach as well, but a very different topic! One Love….

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