10 top tips for reading food labels

Hi guys,

Does anyone else find food labels utterly confusing!? I honestly think food companies are trying to cod us by making them so complicated! As a trainee nutritional therapist I’ve put together some tips to help you read food labels and what specifically to look out for.

– Firstly do you really need to buy something that is in a packet? If you are buying something in a pack consider why and consider if it is something that can be cooked from scratch? I know this isnt always an option but a little bit of time googling a recipe could save you from a whole load of hidden scary ingredients.

– How many ingredients are on the back of the packet? As as rule of thumb if there are more than 5-6 I generally put it down.

– What is the serving size?! All nutritional info must be given by 100ml/100g by law but it isnt always necessary to have nutritional information by serving size and this nearly always catches people out…especially with the junky stuff.
Look at the nutritional information per serving size if its there and if not work it out…and also consider how much you will actually eat. Half a dairy milk is a serving size…but who realistically eats half a dairy milk? If you lack willpower which in reality most of us do.. put down the supersize bar…yes it’s great value but don’t test your willpower.

– Look out for words for hidden sugar….there are lots. Some include fructose, glucose, galactose, lactose, agave, coconut sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, honey, molasses & malt syrup. If you think something sounds like sugar it probably is. Yes some sugar has some nutritional benefits like honey but it is still metabolised by the body in exactly the same way and is not an essential requirement of your diet.

– Don’t read the buzz words….at the moment it seems like every second product has the word “healthy”, “high protein”, “gluten free” on them. Look at the nutritional information per serving size instead. If you can’t understand the ingredients can it really be what it is claiming to be?

– Look at the calorie count and the ingredients together. Calories do matter unfortunately especially if you are trying to lose weight but the quality of calories are equally important. Are you getting the calories from good quality ingredients or from a long list that you can’t understand? Your liver is responsible for metabolising any of the additives, chemicals and preservatives that are in our food. Don’t add to the job it has to do already.

– Check the salt content. Salt isn’t bad – in fact its essential for bodily functions such as maintaining optimum fluid balance in the body however most processed foods contain a lot of salt to add flavour therefore if you are eating a lot of food with labels attached you could easily be overdoing it on the salt.

– Focus in on carbs from sugar….Carbs are not the enemy but carbs that are predominantly from sugar should be avoided. A teaspoon of sugar is 4grams so if a product has 20g of sugar it has 5 teaspoons of sugar in it. Doesnt sound so appetising now does it?!

– Diversify…the reality is we took the time to research every food that we eat we would find conflicting research on what is and isnt good for us. Diversify your diet as much as possible by eating a wide range of whole foods. If you are reliant on certain foods with labels change them up on a regular basis to ensure you’re limiting your exposure to any particular brand or make.

– Similarly if you have been using a particular product with a food label for a long time and are familiar with the ingredients still check it on a regular basis. Food manufacturers are constantly tinkering with formulas in order to make them more cost effective, “high in protein”, “low in fat” or whatever the current health fad is

What do you think? Do you find food labels difficult to understand?

I hope some of these tips help you


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