Episode #65: Decoding Labels: Navigating the Confusion of Healthy Choices for PCOS

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Decoding Labels: Navigating the Confusion of Healthy Choices for PCOS

What you’ll learn in this episode

In this episode we’ll be diving into the often confusing job of understanding nutrition labels. If you’ve ever felt confused by food labels when trying to make healthy choices, this episode will help. I’ll guide you through the ins and outs of decoding labels and making choices that can work wonders for your hormone health.

Food Labels Made Simple 

It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Understanding what to look for when scanning food labels can be quick and easy as you compare options at the store. We’ll explore the key elements to consider on food labels, including calories, macros, and ingredients. And how to use these to find foods that will nourish your body and promote hormonal balance.

Hidden Harmful Ingredients

We’ll talk about the sneaky culprits lurking in our foods. You’ll learn to spot them on ingredient lists, and I’ll explain why they can affect your insulin levels, a vital factor in managing PCOS. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to make healthier choices and avoid those hidden pitfalls. 

Lastly, I’ll show you the importance of reading food labels carefully, beyond just calories and macros. Uncovering hidden additives and preservatives can be a game-changer in your PCOS journey. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about what you put on your plate.

Happy listening!

Let’s Continue The Conversation

Do you have questions about this episode or other questions about PCOS? I would love to connect and chat on a more personal level over on Instagram. My DMs are my favorite place to chat more.


So go visit me on IG @nourishedtohealthy.com


Let’s Continue The Conversation

Do you have questions about this episode or other questions about PCOS? I would love to connect and chat on a more personal level over on Instagram. My DMs are my favorite place to chat more.


So go visit me on IG @nourishedtohealthy.com


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Read The Full Episode Transcript Here

One of the most difficult in this is trying to figure out if a food that you’re thinking about eating or purchasing is actually healthy because the package may say, Healthy this or Gluten-free or dairy-free or keto or whatever marketing slogan that makes it sound healthy. But how do we determine if it actually is healthy? Or more importantly, is it something that’s going to help nourish our PCOS hormones rather than harm them? In this episode, we are going to get into how to read a label, what to look at, what to pay attention to, and how to choose foods easily and with confidence so that you can nourish your PCOS hormones to the best of your ability even when you’re buying packaged foods. So let’s dive in.

You’re listening to the PCOS Repair podcast where we explore the ins and outs of PCOS and how to repair the imbalances in your hormones naturally with a little medical help sprinkled in. Hi, I’m Ashlene Korcek and with many years of medical and personal experience with polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is my joy to watch women reverse their PCOS as they learn to nourish their body in a whole new way. With the power of our beliefs, our mindset, and our environment and the understanding of our genetics, we can heal at the root cause.

Welcome back to the PCOS Repair Podcast where today we’re going to be going through and decoding what is going on on those nutrition labels and how to determine if a certain food product is a good choice for your PCOS hormones or not. Now, first and foremost, this is a lifestyle, there are going to be times where we know what’s on that nutrition label and we know it’s not healthy for our PCOS hormones. That’s an entirely different topic about making choices and having planned involveances and enjoying our lives fully but what I want to talk about is making sure that you are fully equipped with the information that you need that when you go to the store, when you’re looking at a package and thinking about eating something, you know just a quick and dirty way of looking at the label and determining if it fits into what you want to be consuming today to meet your goals and to achieve the success in your PCOS wellness that you’re looking for. Okay, so first and foremost, let’s break up the nutrition label into a couple of parts. This would be easier if it was a video, but for now, just try to visualize it with me. If you need a visual, grab a nutrition label and we’ll walk through this together. A couple of things that I always look at first is servings. What is the serving size of this product? If I’m looking at a packaged item that looks like a single serving, is it indeed a single serving? I remember back when I was growing up, Snapple had these little prizes under the Snapple caps. And so all my friends, Snapple was new, Costco carried it and so everyone was buying Snapple and we were all so excited to see what prize we won or if we got whatever code or whatever we needed to win under the Snapple caps. But I remember thinking that they probably weren’t super healthy. I was in high school, so I was loosely aware of calories and about nothing else. I remember looking at the calories and being like, Well, that’s not horrible. Then one day I realized that were like 2.5 servings in that can that I had been drinking or that bottle that I had been drinking. The entire thing of thinking there was only that many calories in it because I didn’t read the fine print of the serving size.

First thing I always look at is what is the serving size? Or especially if it’s an individual, if it looks like it’s an individual serving that you’re being given, how many servings are actually in that package? Because that’s going to give us a really important glimpse on quantity. Because when we look at something and we’re thinking, how much are we really going to need of this? If a salad dressing is only giving you a teaspoon instead of two tablespoons, which is normal, then we need to recalibrate because I don’t think I’ve ever put just a teaspoon of salad dressing on my salad. Next, I always glance at the calories. Now, I don’t care as much about calories, but it gives me a really quick way of seeing how calorie-dense is this volume that I’m going to be eating at the end of the day, I don’t want to be hungry, so I want to be able to choose food so that I allow me enough volume of food to consume that I’m not going to be hungry as I reach my calorie goal for the day. Now, I’m not hard and fast about a calorie goal, I do have a general ballpark that I aim for based on my current body composition that changes over time. I’m always recalculating that but I do have a basic calorie goal. I want to make sure that as I’m choosing food, I’m choosing foods that are low enough in calorie and high enough in volume that I will actually get enough food inside of me to feel satisfied for the day. Then I look at the macronutrients. These are going to be your protein, carbs and fats. A lot of times they are bolded on the label so they are easy to see the total carbs, total fat, total protein. Depending on the source of the fat, I don’t care if this is on the higher side. I’m looking at like natural peanut butter. I know it’s going to be higher in fat. I’m okay with that. What I want to make sure is that the carbs aren’t too high because if the carbs are high, I’m really going to dig in there and see why is something that I wasn’t expecting the carbs to be that high on leading to that high of carbohydrates? Is there some hidden sugar in here?

Even if the label says no sugar added. The next thing I’m going to look at is the protein. I want things that have protein in them, unless I’m truly just trying to get a fat or I’m just having vegetables, in which case it’s not going to have a nutrition label and we’ll get to that. Anything that I’m eating that has a label, ideally if I’m trying to nourish my PCOS and not just get a planned indulgence, I want to make sure that it has probably somewhere in the ballpark of 10 grams of protein per serving at least but if you’re having something smaller, like if it’s something like pumpkin seeds that you’re going to sprinkle on top, maybe 5 grams of protein is adequate, especially if the carbs are low and you’re using it more of a fat. Something like a Mayo or a salad dressing, I’m going to expect that to be pretty much all fat, no protein. That’s an exception to that rule but I’m looking for plus or minus healthy fats, but protein outweighs carbohydrates at the minimum being equal per serving size.

The next thing I’m going to look at is the ingredients, so those are the main areas I’m looking at. I’m looking at how many servings, the size of the servings, so what volume of food do I actually get to enjoy if I choose this request? What are the calories? Is it a calorie-dense item? Again, that goes back to the serving size volume. How satisfying is this really going to be? Then I’m looking at the macronutrients, which is going to be fats, proteins, carbohydrates. Then I’m going to look at the nutrition. It’s really important, as we have this conversation, to also mention marketing. I can’t tell you how many times in the last week I have seen things be so misleading. Brands, simple truth. You think, okay, great, they’re just going to tell me what it is, right? and it’s pure olive oil and then you look on the back and you’re like, okay, this olive oil spray, the first ingredient is canola oil, which is an inflammatory fat. I think I’m not buying healthy olive oil spray because I know they make pure olive oil spray but this particular olive oil spray has more canola oil in it than it does olive oil and yet the label says, Simple truth, pure olive oil.

Clearly, we can’t just read the pretty label on the front. We have to read the nutritional label on the back. The other one that I’ve been seeing a ton is no added sugar, sugar-free. When you turn it around on the back, there’s just no cane sugar. There’s all sorts of other things that are essentially sugar but somehow because it’s not actually called sugar on the label when they put it in the ingredients, they are discounting it as sugar. If you go back a couple of episodes where I talk about types of sweeteners for PCOS health and which ones to choose, which ones to avoid, etc, I have a list on that episode web page that goes through all the names of hidden sugars, or at least a lot of the names of hidden sugars to help you determine which ones are in there. That is why I always look at the carbohydrates and see, is it higher than I think it should be? Because that always clues me in the need to be looking for those hidden sugars. As we talk about nutrition labels, I think it’s really important to point out because it can be so tedious and cumbersome to check all of your nutrition labels.

In order to beat the overwhelm and to actually have the healthiest PCOS nutrition possible, you really do want to focus on those whole foods. Are going to be foods that really don’t have a nutrition label. Aside from dairy products and some things that you find in packages that are otherwise primarily whole foods, the majority of this is going to be meat, vegetables, and fruit. Then of course, you may get some yogurt or something like that. On top of that, those are going to have nutrition labels. You definitely want to check those nutrition labels, any dairy-free milk or any packaged item in general. You just want to do this quick scan of what’s in it. As we start talking about the ingredient list, the ingredient list should be short. It should have recognizable items listed in the ingredient list. It should be real foods. Even though this is technically you have a nutrition label, so it’s a packaged food, it should be filled with whole foods that you recognize. Some of the things that are really not great for our PCOS are going to be preservatives, additives, unrecognizable foods that are inflammatory and messing with our microbiomes and our gut, which then increases our inflammation, increases our insulin resistance and therefore is adding to our hormone imbalances, our decrease in metabolic health, and more of a struggle with losing weight or maintaining our weight, which then creates a further vicious cycle for our insulin resistance, for increasing inflammation and for further disrupting our hormones.

You can see there’s just really a vicious cycle when we consume foods that are fillers, preservatives, not natural foods, inflammatory foods and so forth. When we stick with foods that are recognizable, whole foods, as much organic as possible, keeping it simple the majority of the time. Then of course, because it’s a lifestyle that needs to be sustainable, making room for also enjoying some other foods as well. When I look at the ingredients, what am I looking for? First of all, I’m looking at the first couple ingredients, and I’m usually skimming all the way down to where I know if I was going to make that, that ingredient would be miniscule. Anything beyond that, I’m less worried about, although I still take a look at it and I want things that are going to be normal things I would recognize, like olive oil, avocado oil, eggs, chicken, seasonings, dairy, like a milk or a butter or something that would be recognizable. I’m trying to think about what would I should be in a nutrition label, or like a whey protein. So I don’t want something that is an inflammatory fat. Those are going to be all of your vegetable oils like margarine, canola oil, safflo, oil and so forth.

What I do want to see is think that if I was going to go and buy them and create this package item myself, I could do it. I wouldn’t be going and grabbing a ton of things that were completely foreign to me. Almost like I’m reading a recipe and I’m like, oh, I know where to find that. Oh, I know what that is and if you don’t know what it is because if you were going to make a recipe, then it’s suspect. Anything that ends in trose like dextrose or fructose or anything like that. So basically anything that ends in -ose or succralose or something like that, be suspect. The other one is like dextran, so maldextran, things like that. You want to be very cautious of things like that. Those typically are sugars. Now, most nutrition labels are now if you go under the carbohydrate section, it will include total sugars and added sugars. You can quickly do a look there, although they don’t always include things there, especially if it’s a negligible amount. So I always do a quick sweep of the ingredient list as well. This is definitely something that is tedious, especially early on.

Overall, you’re going to start to pack your pantry in your shelves and discover the things that you buy over and over that you’ve already looked at. You don’t have to do this all the time to all your groceries. But I encourage you and invite you, challenge you to go through the foods that you’re using this week. You don’t have to go through your whole pantry. That sounds overwhelming but go through what you’re using this week. If you grab a salad, you grab a Mayo, if you grab a ketchup, notice how high sugar is on the list of ketchup and how many types of sugar. That’s another big one is that they will say to keep the sugar lower on the list of ingredients, because the way the ingredient list work is that the highest amount, the biggest volume of whatever ingredient is listed first in descending order. One of their best ways to look like there’s not a lot of sugar in it is to add three kinds of sugar so that they end up low on the list. But if you combine them all in volume and or just said sweeteners, it would be like the top of the list. That’s a dirty hidden way that they get more sugar in there without it looking like there’s as much sugar in it. Keep an eye out for that. This doesn’t have to be cumbersome, I think another place where this starts to become a little bit overwhelming is, well, what should I be looking for? What should I be trying to balance as far as what should my macros be? What should my calories be? These are things that really vary person to person and even for each person, really varies depending on what stage they’re at in their PCOS healing, where they’re at with their body composition, what their current goals are, etc but if you have an overall idea of where you’re at, your PCOS root causes and things like that and if you need help with that, that’s what I can help you do. That’s what I do for women all the time, but when you’re trying to look at the nutrition label, I think it’s really important to not just be looking at it going, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be looking at here. Again, serving size, how much of this do I really get to eat for what it’s telling me?

And then calories, macros, ingredients, it’s that simple. In calories, I look at it more as again, a volume. Do I get to have four of these or do I get to have one of these? And is that going to be satisfying or would I rather choose something else? I’m not looking at it like I’m counting calories and being all uptight about my calories. I’m really looking at it more like, Oh, man, I don’t give very much of this for how many calories it is. It doesn’t seem worth it to me thing. Almost like you would look at a price tag. Does this seem like it’s worth what you’re expected to pay? And does that change how you feel about wanting it?

The last thing, but definitely not the least thing. The last thing I want to talk about here, but maybe one of the most important things is the nutrition. Now, this one’s hard because sometimes they will list all of the nutrition and sometimes they don’t really, especially because most of the package feeds are going to be very low in nutrients and so most of the nutrients that you’re going to consume are going to come from unlabeled items like vegetables but it’s still important to just take a quick look and see what are some of the nutrients that this food contains. Is the list very long? Are the percentages very high? Other than sodium? Sodium is always high in the packaged food. We don’t really need to consume that much sodium. Salt is not unhealthy, but it’s very easy to overindulge in it. We just want to be mindful of is there any actual nutritional value to this packaged food that I’m buying? I think that it’s very eye opening if you look at a day. I do this for people inside of the PCOS detox program where we compare a typical day of not really unhealthy eating just typical American food. Typical American food where you’re probably trying to actually be a little bit healthy as compared to one of the days in the PCOS detox meal plan. What you would see if you went through that exercise is basically zero nutrition. Now there’s carbohydrates, fat and protein in the daily American diet menu, but there’s no real nutrition. There’s no antioxidants, there’s no nutrients, there’s no minerals, there’s no anything that your body actually needs to build and replenish and grow and thrive and build up your immune system and to continually regenerate and grow hormones and have everything be healthy the way it needs to be.

Whereas when we’re eating mostly whole foods, getting lean, healthy proteins, having some healthy dairy if you tolerate dairy, having a lot of vegetables and maybe some fruits, now we’re tapping into getting all of the nutrition that we actually need, especially if we vary that many from day to day. We don’t need every nutrient in its entirety every single day but over the average of the week, we do want to make sure that we met all the goals of our nutrition.

So there you have it, my friend. That is what I’m looking at when I do a quick glimpse at the back of a nutrition label. Is it nutritious? Is there even any value of eating this? That doesn’t mean I will put it back on the shelf, but it does mean, okay, I need to pair this with something that’s nutrient-dense. Now, some things aren’t supposed to be nutrient-dense like a salad dressing. I’m not getting my nutrients from the salad dressing. In fact, what I want to get from the salad dressing is my healthy fat. So seeing salad dressings from primalkitchen where they have really great ingredients and they have things like avocado and olive oil in them and they’re high in fat, low in carb or zero in carb and they’re basically some healthy fat like olive oil, avocado oil and seasonings. Its purpose is not to be nutritionally dense. Its purpose is to provide the macronutrient of healthy fat on top of nutrient-dense foods such as the salad with some protein on it and so forth. You have to look at the entirety of your meal and remember why you’re picking this particular item and seeing if it’s a good choice but you definitely want to make sure that you’re planning out a meal that has nutritional value and not just macros, because I think sometimes people really promote counting macros and yet their diet is actually nutritionally void. Then yes, pay attention to the macros. Glance at the calories more from a standpoint of volume you get to consume. Is it worth it? Is this a good choice? Is the other choice a better choice? Although calories to calories is not necessarily a better choice because sometimes they just take out the fat, makes the calories lower, but the sugar is higher. Again, I don’t really like calories as the main discerning point of whether or not I’m going to select a certain item or not. Then a quick run through the ingredients list and you are stalking your pantry and choosing foods that you can feel confident and good about in your PCOS healthy journey.

So if you have any questions about this, and I anticipate a lot of questions about various foods, you know where to find me. I’m over on Instagram @Nourishedtohealthy. Hit me up in the DMs and ask me your questions about nutrition labels. I’m happy to answer those there. Until next time, bye for now.

Did you know that studies of PCOS epigenetics have shown that our environment can either worsen or completely reverse our PCOS symptoms? I believe that although PCOS makes us sensitive to our environment, it also makes us powerful, when we learn what our body needs and commit to providing those needs, not only do we gain back our health, but we grow in power just by showing up for ourselves. This is why I’ve created a guide for you to get started. My PCOS Fertility Meal Guide can be found in the show notes below. I want to show you how to create an environment that promotes healing while still being able to live a life that you enjoy. This guide is completely free, so go get your copy now so that you can step into the vision that you have for your life and for your health.

Take The PCOS Root Cause Quiz

   What Do Your Symptoms Mean?

  Discover your current PCOS Root Cause

Start to reverse PCOS at the root cause. 

Results are not guaranteed. Please see Medical Disclaimer for more detail.

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About Show

Welcome to The PCOS Repair Podcast!

I’m Ashlene Korcek, and each week I’ll be sharing the latest findings on PCOS and how to make practical health changes to your lifestyle to repair your PCOS at the root cause.

If you’re struggling with PCOS, know that you’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that one in ten women have PCOS. But the good news is that there is a lot we can do to manage our symptoms and live healthy, happy lives.

So whether you’re looking for tips on nutrition, exercise, supplements, or mental health, you’ll find it all here on The PCOS Repair Podcast. Ready to get started? Hit subscribe now