Get the low-down on why you should read food labels. Learn how to spot marketing lies and tricks, what to stay away from and how to choose real foods.
All packaged food comes with a label listing nutritional information and ingredients.
Before I really understood the importance of reading labels, I’d usually just take a quick peek at the calories or carbs. It helped me determine if it was healthy and then decide to either put it back or toss it in my cart.
I didn’t think too much about the ingredients. If the front of the salad dressing said, “Made with avocado oil” I just assumed it was healthy.
Little did I know that if I just turned that bottle over I’d see the primary oil was canola oil with a little avocado oil drizzled in. Just enough that they could make it seem like it was healthy.
They sure tricked me!
When I really started reading the labels, I was livid. So many of the healthy food brands I trusted were actually full of junk. I would never knowingly put this junk into my body or my family’s.
Here are my tips on reading food labels and how to choose real foods. So you and your family can live a healthier and happier life knowing the big picture when it comes to your food.
Why You Should Read Food Labels
You’re reading this article because you care about what you put into your body. You care about eating healthy and living a thriving life.
It’s really hard to live healthy when you’re consuming:
- Artificial colors
- Growth hormones
- Hydrogenated oils
This is why reading food labels is crucial for healthy eating if you’re going to buy anything packaged.
Some people think that if you eat fruits, veggies, meats, nuts, etc., then you don’t need to worry about labels. This is NOT TRUE.
On meat packaging, you’ll want to know if that animal has been injected with growth hormones.
On produce, you’ll want to know if it has been sprayed with pesticides.
On eggs, you’ll want to check if they come from chickens eating feed filled with GMOs.
So even if you’re eating real whole foods, it’s still important to understand labels so that you can make the best decision for yourself and your family. Because living healthy starts with eating healthy.
Marketing Claims on Front Packaging
One of the most important things I try to teach my family while living the real food lifestyle is that the ingredients on a food label can matter far more than the nutrition facts, like calories, carbs, etc.
This is why I was so upset when I realized I was being tricked by the front packaging of my favorite foods.
- “No rBST” — I realized that I’ve made a lot of my dairy choices based on this. Then I intentionally looked at the ingredients. To my shock, I realized many of these products are full of added sugar and other artificial ingredients.
- “All Natural” — This one’s deceiving. Your brain immediately thinks that every ingredient is natural when reading this label. All natural still includes pesticides, hydrogenated oils and enriched flours. Yuck!
- “Organic Peanut Butter” — Oh that word, organic. It’s a great start, don’t get me wrong. Organic is super important to me. But sometimes, it can be tricky. For example, if you pick up a jar of organic peanut butter and don’t read the label, you may never realize it contains hydrogenated vegetable oils (linked to heart disease) or added sugar.
Crazy, right? I agree. This is why I have made a habit of reading labels before purchasing anything.
How to Read Food Labels
Understanding food labels can be a bit of a learning curve, but don’t worry — it’s super simple. Once you learn the lingo, you’re golden.
Did you know that the order of the ingredients actually matters? You can tell which ingredient is in the final product more by looking at its placement on the list — the higher it is, the more it's included.
Make sure to read those labels — it’s brimming with crucial info about how the product was actually made.
Check out these tips below to help you learn how to read food labels correctly.
Read the Ingredient List
Always start with the ingredient list. There’s no point in moving on to the nutrition facts if it doesn’t make the cut with what it’s made with.
Turn your packaged food over because typically the labels are on the back. Look right under nutrition facts to locate the list of ingredients.
Read through them and do a quick search if you aren’t sure what something is.
Tip for real food enthusiasts — if you can’t pronounce it, put it back and walk away. Seriously. I’m not kidding here. You can even run away if you prefer. As long as it’s not going into your cart. Typically, if you can’t pronounce it, it’s not natural and it doesn’t belong in your body.
Look For Added Sugar and Sometimes No or Low Sugar
Sugar, sugar, sugar. It is EVERYWHERE. It’s added into things that make absolutely no sense to me.
Yogurt, peanut butter, crackers, soups, spaghetti sauce, pickles… the list is endless. If you notice sugar in the ingredients, jump up to the nutrition facts and see how much sugar is added.
For your reference, I like to see the number 0. But anything under 5g is decent depending on the serving size.
Here are the tricky ones — “No Sugar” and “Low Sugar.” They’re marketing gimmicks.
Sometimes if a product is labeled with “no sugar,” it really is a good and clean product. But sometimes, they’ve added fake sugars instead. The same goes for “low sugar,” they usually just substitute part of the real sugar with fake sugar.
These fake sugars are sometimes labeled as
Stay clear of these. Not only are they harmful to your health but research actually shows that those who eat fake sugar actually struggle with weight issues and weigh more than those who don’t.
Don’t fall into the trap of No Sugar or Low Sugar. Look at the ingredients and decide if this product is using CLEAN ingredients or just substituting with fake and harmful ingredients.
Beware of Natural Flavors
We all know that artificial flavors are a big no-no, but why should you also watch out for natural flavors too? Aren’t they… well, natural?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations states that natural flavors come from the process of extracting elements from these animal and plant sources:
- Vegetables or vegetable juice
- Fruit or fruit juice
- Dairy products, including fermented products
- Edible yeast, herbs, bark, buds, root leaves, or plant material
- Meat, poultry, or seafood
So to be labeled as a natural flavor, the original source must be plant or animal material.
Here’s the catch — natural flavors can be highly processed and contain many chemical additives.
In fact, in most cases, natural flavors aren’t all that different from artificial flavors when it comes to chemical composition and health effects.
So try your best to stay away from this misleading ingredient.
Seals to Know While Shopping
USDA Certified Organic: This is a labeling term that promises it's been grown on soil with no prohibited substance applied for at least 3 years. It also means that their agriculture methods have to be approved. The product must also contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
Certified Paleo: Focused on whole foods but doesn’t include grains, legumes, or dairy. Basically, foods that our ancestors could gather or hunt without having the advancements we have now.
Whole30 Approved®: Focused on eating whole, unprocessed foods. This means no added sugar, grains, legumes, alcohol or dairy.
Non-GMO Project Verified: This verification ensures that your product and all of the ingredients within your product are produced without genetically modified organisms.
Certified Gluten-Free: This seal means that the manufacturer can promise they’ve taken all necessary steps to deliver a product that’s free from any gluten-containing ingredients or cross-contamination.
Real Ingredients, Real Foods, Real Immune Health
Do you see the importance of looking at the whole picture when it comes to eating healthy?
It's not just about calories, fat, or carbs. It’s about knowing exactly what your food is made of.
When you begin reading food labels and stop buying products filled with sugar, chemicals and other additives you'll have more energy.
You’ll also feel 100 times better and strengthen your line of defense by building your immune system.
That’s exactly why my family never misses our daily dose of USDA Organic Elderberry Syrup. Made with 7 organic ingredients (don’t worry, you’ll be able to pronounce them all).
Elderberry Syrup has become part of our daily routine and it keeps us all happy, healthy and thriving. I want that for your family too. Grab yours here.