Understanding the food labels

Reading food labels might be boring and some of you may find it unnecessary even. However, reading food labels is important to know the contents of the food items you’re consuming, what nutrients they have and in what proportion. Why is knowing this important? Because, when you know, you become more aware of the food you put inside your body, and are less likely to put the wrong ones in your mouth.

Knowledge prevents you from making bad or wrong food choices, because you’re aware of the consequences. When you knowingly consume something that’s not healthy for you, you feel a sense of guilt. And over a period of time, you’ll refrain from such foods because you don’t want to feel guilty all too often.

Reading labels is one of the easiest ways of knowing the calorie count and nutritional content of the food you consume.  Here’s some tips to help you understand what those food labels mean.


Read the ingredients

The ingredients are usually listed according to their quantities present in the food, from highest to lowest. So, if the first three ingredients on the label says either refined grains, any type of sugar or hydrogenated oils, it’s safe to assume that the food is processed and unhealthy. Alternatively, if in the first few ingredients, it says whole foods, then it might be safe to purchase the item.


Check the serving size

Most manufacturers will try to convince you that their products have less content of unhealthy ingredients. One way of doing this is to show the composition of smaller serving sizes. Watch out for this when reading the food labels.


Is sugar present?

Sugar is often disguised as sucrose, glucose and fructose. Manufacturers also use certain syrups to hide the presence of sugar in their products, such as corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, and so on. Some may even state other added sugars. When you read these names on any food label, be alarmed and ask yourself—do you really need to buy this?


Misleading terms on food labels

Here are some commonly found terms on food labels along with their meaning.

No added sugar – This can mean that the product already has a high level of sugar in it. Hence, it may not be healthy.

Multigrain – This is considered healthy owing to the many grains in the product, however they are still refined and not whole grains, unless mentioned otherwise, which makes the product not so healthy.

Natural – This doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is natural, but that some natural ingredients were used to make the product.

Low-fat – This often means that the fat content of the food item has been reduced, usually by adding more sugar.

Whole grains – As we discussed above, if “whole grains” is not one of the top ingredients, then even if the product has this label, it doesn’t mean much due to the low content of grains in it.

Gluten-free – Being gluten-free implies the product doesn’t have wheat, rye, barley or other gluten-based grains. However, they may contain lots of sugar and fats.

Flavoured – Flavoured fruit labels on products, especially like yogurt or jams don’t mean they have flavours from actual fruits. It just means that chemicals or artificial flavouring agents have been added to make them taste like certain fruits.


Now, you are in a much better position to decode the food labels that the manufactures design to trick you into buying their products. But, you’re smarter than that!


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