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The answer is on the label

Do you speak label? If you do, it's likely your health care bills will be lower in the future and your blood pressure, too. The belt on your trousers will notch a little easier. And you will probably save money at the grocery store.

Do you believe it? Do you think I'm overreaching with those predictions? Possibly, but I'm sticking with them.

The publication I regularly receive through my church (www.thrivent.com) usually offers up stories about familial accomplishments and social-service activities in rural communities. But a recent issue contained an article about label reading, "Decoding the language and numbers on nutrition panels."

At first glance I thought, "Where did that come from?" And then I realized even God wants us to eat with more thoughtful attention to our health and well-being.

About 50 percent of us who go into a grocery store and select a package of processed food will turn it over and look at the nutritional label before we buy. Then what? We might glance down at "sugar" and see 2g (grams) and think, "Well, that seems pretty good."

But if that's two grams per serving and there are four servings in that boxed pasta item — and you end up eating almost the whole box by yourself — not so good.

Another hint regarding sugar: look at the ingredient list. Is there anything "sugar-like" among the first several ingredients (for example, high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose, sucrose, cane crystals or evaporated cane juice — and that's just for starters)? If so, beware.

Or maybe you want to reduce your salt intake, so you look for the sodium on the label, and it says 148mg (milligrams) of sodium. Is that good or bad? Just remember, anything on the nutrition label relates directly to "serving size" listed at the top. You are more likely to make good decisions if you start at the top.

Actually, 148mg of sodium per serving is not all that bad. Labels that say 890mg per serving (which is the sodium content of half a cup of canned chicken noodle soup) are the problem. Just for drill, go to your cupboard and find a half-cup measure and look at how small it is (sort of frightening, actually).

Let's say you're in the store and you eye a bag of delectable-looking chips. The front of the bag says "Reduced-Fat, Full of Flavor." It beckons to you. You look at the nutrition label and find very little fat in any form. But here's the deal — if it's "full of flavor" it usually means salt or sugar (or both) are present in excess. (I know, frustrating, isn't it?)

If you do not speak label, are you game to learn? And have a little fun doing it? I have developed an evening workshop on this topic that includes prizes and surprises (some of which are quite flavorful). Put the date and time on your calendar next to the reminder to "eat less salt" and "lose 10 pounds."

The workshop is 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2, at the Oregon State University Research and Extension Center auditorium, 569 Hanley Road, off Highway 238 between Central Point and Jacksonville. Pre-register at 541-776-7371. The cost is $5.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.