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Tip Tuesday: How to Read Food Labels (Part 1)

"Breadless Breakfast", veggies, turkey sausage, 13g of protein, "no artificial flavors or colors"...

Looks "healthy" right? Not so fast. Food companies want you to think their food is healthy. They want to entice you to buy their products over their competitors' products. And the worse a food is for you, the bigger the advertising budget.

To entice you to eat more of what they sell, food companies combine fat, sugar, and salt in a specific way that plays on the brain’s biological hardwiring for pleasure.

A little practice and a systematic approach to reading food labels goes a long way! The best place to start learning how to read food labels is to read the ingredients list. This gives you a clear thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the packaged food you are considering eating or buying based on the criteria you are about to learn.

Let's take a look...

The ingredients list is going to tell you how many chemicals are in the food and as a result, how processed it is. For simplicity, favor fewer ingredients.

What to look for when reading the ingredients list:

Read the ingredients in the order in which they are written.

Why is this important? Ingredients are listed in order of their quantity. This means that if sugar is the first ingredient listed, then the product is mostly sugar and similarly, if corn syrup is listed third, then the product contains a lot of it! If there are twenty or more ingredients—most of which are chemical names that sound like gibberish—put the product back on the shelf and walk away. It is best to go for products with minimal ingredients like 3 to 5 max that contain food ingredients that you can identify as food.

Watch out for food "product" ingredients and misnomers.

This is the opposite of looking out for food ingredients that you can identify as food. This means being on the lookout for potentially harmful ingredients that are added to a product such as preservatives, additives, and a host of other toxic chemicals to extend shelf-life, alter color, and enhance flavor.

You must be super attentive to misnomers too because oftentimes harmful ingredients are disguised with scientific sounding names to trick consumers such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is a fancy word for trans fats. It is especially important to look out for ingredients that you know you do not tolerate well, if that is the case, such as casein, gluten, soy, and corn.

Learn about and understand complicated chemical names and acronyms.

The reason why this is so important is that these automatically mean that the product contains a host of preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners. Examples of preservatives to limit or avoid include BHT (preservative used to stabilize fats and preserve flavor, color, smell), BHA (preservative that prevents fats in the product going rancid), TBHQ (a toxic preservative used to extend shelf-life and prevent rancidity).

Color dyes, for example, are easy to spot as they are numbered as such: Blue #1 Brilliant Blue, Blue #2 Indigo Carmine, Citrus Red #2, Green #3 Fast Green, Red #40 Allura Red, Red #3 Erythrosine, Yellow #5 Tartrazine, Yellow #6 Sunset Yellow etc. If a "food" product comes in a color that you cannot identify in nature, then assume that it is chemically altered. Be especially cautious of cereals and candy marketed to children.

The most popular artificial sweeteners used in "food" products that are notorious for causing a host of health issues are: Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Equal®, NutraSweet®, saccharin, Sweet’n Low®, Sucralose, Splenda® and Sorbitol. Also, beware of foods labeled non-fat, low-fat, and fat-free since they generally contain substitute chemicals including artificial sweeteners such as these listed.

Focus on the serving size listed on the label.

The serving size is often there to make the rest of the Nutrition Facts Box appear reasonable to the consumer. For example, a person may eat a "normal" serving of three cookies at a time, which would result in 270 calories and 39 grams of carbohydrates. So, companies instead list the serving size on the cookie box as one, which only contains 90 calories and tricks the consumer into thinking they'll be consuming less calories, which is only the case if they eat one cookie instead of three.

Think broader than the % Daily Value listed.

Companies are required to list the % Daily Value on their "food" product labels but remember that the best nutrition does not come in a packaged box. So, do not rely on labels for your nutritional intake. Instead, focus on getting most of your macronutrients and micronutrients from whole food grown in Mother Nature's earth and if you must purchase packaged food, read the labels, and get educated. It is your best way to ensure your optimal health.

Labels also try to tell us where and how our food was grown, raised, or caught. Labels try to tell us what our food ate and what environmental impacts its raising or harvesting had. Check back for "How to Read Food Labels (Part 2)" where I'll teach you to tell the difference between which labels matter for your health and which do not.

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