Deciphering Food Labels

I am a big label reader. I put a lot of time and energy into the meals I make for my family and I don’t want a healthy meal to be sabotaged by ingredients from canned, boxed or jarred goods.

So, what should you be looking for at the grocery store?

I want to find items with the least amount of ingredients, the least amount of added sodium, and the least amount of sugar. I also don’t want anything with:

  • Fillers
  • Gums
  • Thickeners such as carrageenan.
In fact, I don’t want to see any additives in the food I buy.

It is no longer shocking to me to read a label on a product that is branded healthy to find out it is actually full of crap. 

A few things I have learnt:

Never believe the claims on the front. These are often just marketing pitches. Don’t believe “fat-free” or “all-natural” claims unless you check for yourself.

Check the serving size. Are the numbers based on one serving but you would normally eat two? Often there is a healthier option. 

When it comes to trans fats did you know that a product can be listed as having zero trans fats if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving? Or that hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils listed on the label are actually trans fats?

Check the sodium. Look at the number of milligrams per serving and consider how many servings of it will you be having in one sitting. Keep this as low as possible. The daily guide is around 2,300mg per day which is the equivalent of 1 tsp of table salt! You can easily blow through this number with one bad product choice. You are better off trying to stick with 1,500 mg per day if possible. 

Watch out for artificial sweeteners. These may have a lower caloric intake but they are very hard on the body’s metabolic system. 

Watch out for added sugars. There shouldn't be any added sugars in the first three to five spots on the ingredient list. That includes brown sugar, invert sugar, agave nectar, honey, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup. 


Say no to high fructose corn syrup. This ingredient is found in many common food items from yoghurt to cereal to even boxed macaroni. High fructose corn syrup is linked to obesity and related health issues. 

Watch out for artificial colouring and artificial flavours. If it lists natural flavours consider what exactly they mean by this.

Try to avoid added fillers, gums and thickeners. Sometimes this is unavoidable but when there is an option with one thickener vs. three- pick the one with less. 

Always remember - the less ingredients listed the better.

I know…I know….label reading can be daunting. And time consuming. But I promise that deciphering the ingredients on labels becomes easier over time. At your next shop, start with one or two of your go-to products. Take a minute and compare it to a few other products on the same shelf and you will quickly come to find products you like without all the added gunk.  

Let me know what you find in the comments. And recommend any good substitutes you find. 

If you want to check out a few of my favourite recipes that have clean ingredients I support, you can find them HERE

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