How to read food labels

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Do you really know what you are eating?

Food labels can be very confusing and tricky to understand. Often we don’t know how to use them or don’t have the time to spend trying to work out what they mean.

But understanding what you actually eat may help you to be healthier and lose weight!

So here are few tips which can make your shopping for healthy food a whole lot quicker and easier:


1. Check the food expiration date. Is it still fresh?


2. Check the ingredients list.

All ingredients are listed on the product in order of descending weight. So always look at the first three ingredients – the most used – on the list. If a sugar is listed as one or more of the first three ingredients you can assume that the product has a high sugar content and it isn’t good healthy choice at all.


3. Check the serving size.

How many serve sizes the product really contain? If the product contains 2 servings per pack you have to double protein, sugar and fat content.

When comparing products always use 100g column, because serving sizes can be different (for example cereals – serving size is usually 30g, 40g or 50g).


4. Check the sugar content.

The term “Carbohydrates total” means complex and simple sugars in total.

The term “Sugars” means simple sugars  – the natural ones for example from fruit, milk or honey and added (refined) sugars.

So if the product has a high sugar content and doesn’t contain fruit or milk in the ingredients list, it is likely to be high in added sugar. Food with high level of refined sugar provides calories (or kilojoules) without providing other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre and it is not a healthy at all.

Sugar can be also hidden under different name such as: Sucrose, Glucose, Lactose, Fructose, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Corn syrup, Honey, Malt, Malt extract, Maltose, Rice extract, Molasses, Golden syrup and Invert sugar.

Between foods with a high amount of “hidden” sugar belong salad dressings, savory biscuits, tomato sauce, baked beans, canned and packed soups, canned vegetables and fruits, breakfast cereals, fruit yogurt and fruit juices.


5. Check the fat content

Always check “the saturated fat” and “trans fat”. These fats are not good for our body in high amount at all. We all need some fat in our diet, but too much of saturated fat/trans fat can raise our cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease and lead to overweight or obesity and other health problems such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart diseases.

So do not choose a products with amount of saturated fat 5g or higher per 100g. Low fat products must contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g, but can be high in added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Here is a list with alternative  terms for fats: Margarine Butter, Vegetable oil, Lard Shortening, Mono, di- or triglycerides, Chocolate chips, Cocoa butter, Tallow Animal, shortening Copha, Whole milk solids, Butter fat


6. Check the sodium content

The recommend daily intake of sodium is less than 2300mg a day. That equals  about one tea spoon! Carefully check the nutrition panel and do not eat a product with more than 400mg of sodium per 100g.
The high amount of salt can be hidden in products such as sauces and salad dressings, pickles, cheese, instant soups, roasted and salted nuts and seeds, chips, fast foods, canned vegetables and breakfast cereals.

Between alternative names for salt belong: Sodium chloride, Yeast extract, Kelp (seaweed), Soy sauce and MSG.


7. Daily intake labels are based on average energy requirements and nutrients needs so you can easily ignore them.


8. Can’t you understand it? Don’t eat it!

Always choose wholesome food and try to avoid or limit the amount of processed food as much as possible.

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9. Nutrient claims

As a marketing strategy manufactures commonly make suggestive statements to confuse consumers. Let’s look what some nutrient claims mean in reality.

No sugar
No sugar products may still contain naturally occurring sugars.

Light or lite
The term light or lite may not mean that the product is light in calories or fat, in fact it may refer to colour, taste or texture (f.e. extra light olive oil).

Reduced fat
Reduce fat products doesn’t have to necessarily be low in fat. For example 90% fat free product still contain 10% fat.

Low fat
The better term can be low fat product, which has only  3% or less fat.According the law low fat product must contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g for solids or 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids (1.8 g of fat per 100ml for semi-skimmed milk).
If you decide to choice low fat variants always check the amount of added sugar.

The term fresh doesn’t have to mean that the product is straight from manufacturer to the table, but only  refers to products that have not been frozen, canned or treated with high temperature or chemicals. The product could still spend several days or weeks in storage, transport and the like before to get to the point of sale.

No artificial colors, flavors or additives
This term may be misleading for some consumer who believe that NO colors, flavors or additives have been used at all. The actual fact is that only artificial ones have been omitted. So product with this statement may still contain natural coloring and flavors, flavors enhancers or other alternatively named additives, for example mono sodium glutamate know as MSG.





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