Food Labels 411

Food activist and author Michael Pollan says the number one food rule is, “Eat food, and avoid edible food-like substances.”

Being able to read and interpret food labels is extremely important to your health and diet.   With these tips you can have a clear understanding of what you are consuming and have a better handle on your nutritional intake.  Naomi de la Torre from the Health and Wellness Department of She Knows Family explains what we should watch out for when reading food labels.


1.   Biggest Comes First

Be aware that when it comes to food labels, foods are listed in order of quantity.  If sugar is the first ingredient listed on the label, even if the food item says “healthy,” you are still consuming mostly sugar.


2.      Shorter is Better

The fewer ingredients the food label lists, the better.  Try to avoid foods listing those undecipherable chemicals with 50+ letters.


3.      Pay Attention to Serving Size

You may notice that a “snack size” bag of chips often has two or more servings. This allows such products to appear healthier because it lowers the percentage of sugar, salt and trans- fats.  Always be aware of how many servings the food item contains because you might be consuming more unhealthy ingredients than you bargained for.


4.     Limit Your Sodium

According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes well over the top recommended daily amount of sodium which is 2,400 mg.  Sodium content is clearly stated on food labels but be sure to pay attention to serving size.


5.     Sugar & Sugar Substitutes

Sugar has a bad rap, but artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame have been shown to be equally harmful to your body. Just because a product does not contain sugar does not mean it is healthy. Be wary of products that claim to be healthy, but contain these types of artificial sugars.


6.    High Fructose Corn Syrup is NOT the Same as Sugar

Forty percent of all sugars used in processed foods come from HFCS, which is especially problematic considering how dangerous it is to human health because of the way it’s metabolized.  If you are consuming sugar, try to stay away from foods that contain HFCS.


7.   Say No to Trans Fats

Trans fats have been linked to many health problems, especially heart disease.  Many cookies, crackers, breads, margarine and shortenings contain trans- fats.  Avoid foods containing “partially hydrogenated oils,” this is how trans- fats are listed.


8.   No More Hidden Allergens

The top eight food allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat) are now listed on food labels. If you have a food allergy or intolerance, the labels are much more legible.




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