How To Properly Understand Food Labels

“High in Protein,” “Extra Fibre”, “Low Fat,” “0 Sugar,” the list goes on. We’re told in life to not judge a book by its cover, however in this scenario we need to turn to the back of the product to get the actual information.

A lot of us can tend to see something and believe it. We look at the front cover of a product and believe the headline written and thus are manipulated into buying it. Many of us forget that just because it says “high in protein” doesn’t always mean it’s actually good for you. It could have 50 grams of extra sugar, or a ton of fat; or perhaps it doesn’t even have THAT much protein. You don’t know until you start reading and understanding food labels.

In this post I want to try and help you understand all the little details and hidden messages you could be totally skimming through when it comes to understanding how to read food labels. We want to reach our fitness goals, but it can be hard when you’re buying the wrong products that you think are healthy.

Here are some blog posts that might be helpful for you!

10 Post-Workout Blunders That Are Killing Your Progress
15 Best Foods For Gaining Muscle Mass
15 Tips To Losing Weight Without Giving Up Your Favourite Foods

1. Don’t Be Fooled By The Advertising on the Front

It’s like I mentioned; you really need to ignore the front adverting and get to the back to understand the nutritional benefits. My husband has been in the advertising world forever, so both him and I know how much “catchy headlines” go into TV commercials or even the beautifully created ads you see floating around everywhere. You need it to catch people’s eyes! You see so many packaging for cereals, yogurts and more that are just covered with words that you want to hear like “0 fat, high protein”, but then you turn it over and you’ll see that half of the package is just sugar. Companies are very dishonest when it comes to this, so in order to make sure you get the right health benefits you need to read and double check the ingredients!

2. READ The Ingredient List

Product ingredients are listed by the quantity from the highest to lowest, which means the first ingredient you see is what the manufacturer used most of. So if sugar is the first ingredient that means the product is mainly made up of that.
You always want to make sure that the 3 first ingredients are the cleanest. If you see refined grains, sugar, and a word you can’t even pronounce then you may want to skip it.

3. Always Check The Serving Sizes

Some people may think that when they buy one can of soda that equals up to the calories you see on the back, but little do they know that sometimes the serving sizes can play tricks on you. You automatically think one can of soda is one serving size with the calories you see, HOWEVER some products aren’t like this. You may be consuming double the serving size in just one sitting! Example, I love my Lenny and Larry protein cookies, which taste amazing, but it’s not something I would eat everyday. The old packaging would be the serving size per HALF of the cookie. When eating a bigger cookie you still eat the entire thing! So in that case I doubled my calories, fats, sugars etc. So the cookie wasn’t 200 calories for one, it was 200 calories for just half of the cookie.

Always, always, always be aware of this and if you’re treating yourself to some delicious Chips Ahoy cookies, try to only have the serving size. Usually for those cookies the serving size is 2, so when you want a treat try not to go overboard. You’ll be surprised at how 2 cookies totally satisfy your craving.

4. Check Out The % Daily Value

When looking at the nutritional information on the back of labels, it’s really important to look at the Daily Value % (DV) on the right hand side. This will show you how much (or little) nutrients and other things are in each serving size. A great example of this is soy sauce. If you look at the label, you can see that it’s only 5 calories, with 0 fat and less than 1 gram of sugar; so it seems healthy. BUT! If you look at the DV, you will see that 1 tablespoon has 65% of your daily required sodium. That is a ton of salt in just one itsy bitsy spoon. It’s really important to not just look at the macros on labels, but also all of the other things that make up what we eat on a daily basis.

5. False Claims – Words You Should Know

The companies want to lure you in; so what are they going to do? Add some words to get you to think they’re healthy. Here are some phrases you see a lot and what they mean exactly.

Flavoured With Fruit – A lot of processed foods mention something refers to a natural flavour, such as raspberry and key lime yogurt. This doesn’t always mean theres fruit inside your products, but more so chemicals to make it taste like the flavour, or maybe they have used a REALLY small amount of the fruit to give it that taste you know.

Gluten-Free – Some people are too obsessive when it comes to gluten and most people aren’t even gluten intolerant. Just because it’s free of rye, barley etc doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you. A lot of gluten free options still have tons of processed junk in there.

Enriched – This is added into foods that lost their nutrients during food processing. Seeing this in a product means it’s highly processed, which contains more sodium, sugars, and fats. They can be found in some pastas and bread. Eat everything in moderation because I do enjoy my carbs!

Made With Whole Grains – It sounds healthy right? This honestly means nothing. This product could contain very little whole grains, check to see what’s the first ingredient and you’ll know what it’s mostly made of.

Low-Carb – For some reason people love the “low carb” diets, however again, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you to consume. It may have “low carbs”, but it can still have added fake processed junk in it, which isn’t good for your body and goals!

Low-Fat – Low fat items may seem healthy, but they’re often loaded with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.

Organic – While it’s still great to eat cleaner foods with less pesticides on them. Sometimes eating organic isn’t always what you think. At Starbucks you sometimes see “Justins Peanut Butter Cups” and it’s still not healthy for you. Per 2 cups (40 grams) there are 220 calories, 7 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbs and 16 grams of sugar per two small chocolate pieces. Organic sugar is still sugar!

This doesn’t mean you should cut everything out that has words on them, however be caring to your body and understand that just because it says “organic” doesn’t always mean it’s better than a normal product. Checking the ingredient list is a good start to see what’s actually inside the food. If you can’t read it; maybe Google it, so you can have a better understanding.

6. Get To Know More Terms That Means “Sugar”

Let me just tell you that there are so many different names and types of sugar out there that you probably didn’t even know. I don’t even know all of them myself. Companies can have all these fancy names for them so that they can add them in the middle or the end of the ingredient list with a couple different names for them. Here are a couple of examples to keep in your head!

Sugar & Syrups – Beet, brown, cane, organic raw, dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, maltose, sucrose, cane juice crystals, castor, coconut, date, ethyl maltol, diastatic malt, golden, maltodextrin, yellow, barley malt, brown rice syrup, fruit juice, honey,

There are plenty more; like the list goes on! There’s nothing wrong with doing a simple Google search so you can understand what exactly is in your food.

I hope this gives you some sort of insight of what you could be putting into your body. No one is perfect and of course we deserve to have pasta and white breads every now and then, but being a bit more caution isn’t a bad thing. Whole foods will always be the best foods for you, after all there’s no ingredient list for them! 😉

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