3 Tips for Reading Food Labels

Woman choosing products in ecological shop with healthy food and reading product information on label

I want to start off by saying that this is not specific to any one particular diet. The purpose of this article is for those who are looking to make healthier choices in their everyday, average food eating habits. I think a lot of grocery shopping/food issues stem from not being taught how to correctly read labels. Different manufacturers have learned little tricks to make their particular item seem like the healthiest option on the shelf when that, may not necessarily, be the case. Hopefully, with these tools you will be able to spot what foods you should be buying and those you should be avoiding. You may be surprised at what you find out about some of the “healthier” foods you buy. 

1. Be skeptical of claims made by the box!

Just because a box says that the product is “gluten free” does NOT mean it is a healthier option. The food may have not had any gluten to begin with so they are just playing with what they know people want to hear. Many manufactures will place certain labels to match up with what the current fad diet is. For example, “low fat” can still mean lots of sugar and high in calories. “All Natural” is a term very loosely defined by the FDA. Food filled with preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and sodium injections can be labeled as “all natural”. For Diabetics, no sugar added doesn’t necessarily mean sugar free. Sugar may already be naturally occurring within the product. There are so many options to choose from, but you get the point I am trying to make. Never take any of those statements at face value. 

2. Look at the serving size!

For most people, when looking at a nutrition label, the common misconception is that no matter how much of the product you eat the caloric intake will be what is written on the box. That (as much as I wish I could eat a whole box of Oreos at only 160 calories) is not the case. It is very important pay attention to serving sizes. The total calories are based on a certain portion of the package. For example, referencing my earlier example, a typical serving size on a box of Oreos is only three cookies. Never in my life have I only eating three cookies. Try doubling that. If I eat six cookies, I am actually intaking 320 calories. If you do count your calories or are just trying to reduce your daily intake, make sure to do the math based off how much you are eating of the listed serving size. If you don’t want to do the math, just stick to eating the recommended serving size. 

3. Pay attention to sodium

Unfortunately, we are a nation of preservatives. Anything to maintain a long shelf life and maximize profit. In order for food to maintain that long shelf life, a lot of the times it is “processed”. When food is processed, most of the time, sodium-containing additives are included. This makes a majority of the food we buy at the store higher in sodium. No wonder 1 in every 4 deaths is contributed to heart disease.  Because of our large sodium intake, a lot of people suffer from high blood pressure which can in turn be related to an eventual heart attack. When you are buying canned, frozen, or packaged food make sure to look at how much sodium is listed on the label. The FDA recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day. You will be surprised at how easy it is to go over that. 

The whole goal with reading food labels is to make you more aware of what you are putting into your body. Being more aware will help you to make better food decisions. For myself, checking labels has made me replace many brands and food that used to be a staple part of my diet. If you are concerned with your daily intake of any type of food, make sure to discuss it with your physician to see if you may need to make any changes. 


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Consumers – Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet. Retrieved June 12, 2018, from https://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm315393.htm

Get the Facts: Sodium’s Role in Processed Food [PDF]. (2017, October). Atlanta: Center for Disease Control.

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