How to Read Food Labels

by James Kerrison on August 4, 2009

It’s one of my favourite sayings. label

If it comes in a bag, box or can then don’t eat it, or at least 
think twice about eating it.

You see most of the food that we should be eating isn’t processed 
or packaged. Vegetables, fruit, lean meat for example comes 
straight off the shelf and is beast eaten fresh.

Obviously there are some exceptions to this rule, that’s why I 
encourage people to think twice. Yogurt and cottage cheese fit this 
category nicely. But if you are able to identify more foods that 
you should be eating that are packaged then it means you are 
actively thinking about what you are eating which is a good thing!

The trick then when buying packaged foods is to be able to 
determine exactly what’s in them and the best way to do this is by 
reading the Nutritional Information panel.

Today we will look at one of the most confusing areas of this label 
the Ingredients List.

All ingredients must be listed, according to weight, from most to 
least. So the higher on the list an ingredient is then the more of 
it the product contains. Interestingly if an ingredient makes up 
less than 5% of the total ingredients it doesn’t have to be listed. 
Also, all additives and allergens (such as gluten, nuts, and eggs) must 
be listed regardless of the amount.

In an effort to be reducing bad fats and sugar from our diets it is 
important to know what names these might appear as on these labels. 
You see most of these food corporations know health conscious 
people are looking for sugar and fat on the labels so they make it 
a bit more confusing in an effort to, well confuse the customer.


On the label you are looking out for vegetable oil, coconut oil, 
palm oil, milk solids, shortening or cream. If any of these 
ingredients are up the list then look out!


A lot of the time you can look at a label and it appears that there 
is no ‘sugar’ in a product. Technically your basic table sugar is 
sucrose. However there are other sugars used such as maltose and 
lactose. Also be on the lookout for the ‘..saccharride’ clan. This 
includes the monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. 
Other common sugars you will find hidden in the labels are malt 
extract, corn syrup, syrup and brown sugar.


These tricksters also try to hide the salt on the label. To 
increase the shelf life of these foods the manufacturers must add 
salt. The typical western diet gets 80% of its salt intake from 
processed foods. Be on the lookout for any sodium. Sodium nitrate, 
sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate and mono sodium glutamate.

What are you on the lookout for on the labels of food you eat? Let 
us know.

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