7 Tips for Reading Food Label Ingredients

Let’s say you decide with this new year to get healthy.  And with this, the first place you start is with what you eat.  Right?  As you peruse the grocery isles you begin to read every food label on every item you pick up.  But as you read this list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce, your eyes begin to bulge, and your forehead starts to sweat.  What is all this?  It’s like navigating a foreign language on the back of your cereal box. 

When did the simple act of eating become so complicated? It can be an act of God to feel confident that the salad dressing you eat isn’t filled with chemicals or your favorite ice cream isn’t made with milk from steroid, antibiotic, GMO fed cows.  You can make yourself crazy attempting to look up every additive. But you must stay informed. So let me help you navigate the world of food additives and simply be able to pick up a food item, glance at the back and say yay or nay.  

Look at the first 3 ingredients

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.  So, the ingredient listed first is what the manufacturer used the most of.  For example, crackers. If the ingredient list states whole grain wheat, canola oil and salt, it sounds like a clean product.

Skip food with long ingredient lists

If the list of ingredients on a food product goes beyond 2-3 lines, skip it. I looked at a box of Ritz crackers, it had 13 ingredients.  It’s a cracker, not a science experiment. 

Look for Hidden Sugars

Sugar has gotten a bad rap when it comes to the health food world.  So, manufacturers have gotten creative and started using different types of sugar as to avoid the word sugar in their ingredient list.  Look for words such as fructose, sucrose, dextrose, agave and honey.  Avoid ingredients that end in the word “ose”.

Learn the different buzz words for Salt

Low sodium diets have become a part of the trend on getting healthy.  But be aware there are many different names for salt.  Look for ingredients labeled as sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG).  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500mg of sodium per day.  If you want to learn more about salt check out this article Seven Types of Salt.

Avoid Trans-fats

Partially-hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats. Trans fats have been shown to potentially be more harmful than saturated fats when it comes to heart disease. Be careful of labels claiming “trans-fat free”.  They can still contain up to half a gram of trans fat.  If a food has partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fats.  Skip it.

Look out for artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have become a big player in the food industry.  While these ingredients are meant to help cut down on calories in the foods you love, there is nothing natural about them. They have been linked to multiple health problems. Look for sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame. Avoid these if possible.

Look out for artificial colorings

Food colorings have no nutritional value, and some suggest they may pose potential health dangers.  They are often found in snack foods, cereals, candies and sodas.  Think about it, is the color of a nacho cheese Dorito normal?  Look at the stain it leaves on your fingers afterwards. I’ve never seen a neon orange block of cheese before. Look out for Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Red 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3 and Orange B.


Look for short ingredient lists with foods you recognize.  Avoid trans fats, artificial sweeteners, food coloring and opt for lower sodium foods. So, go on, don’t be afraid.  Go to the grocery store flip that box of cereal over and see what you’re really eating.  Once you learn to navigate the world of ingredients you can make much healthier choices. 

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