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Be A "Label Lover" Challenge

Toni-Ann DiSantis

How to Read Food Labels Without Being Tricked

Reading labels is a tricky business.

Consumers are more health-conscious than ever, so food manufacturers use misleading tricks to convince people to buy their products.  They often do this even when the food is highly processed and unhealthy.  The regulations behind food labeling are complex, so it’s not surprising that the average consumer has a hard time understanding them.

Here are some tips on how to sort out the junk from the truly healthy foods.

One of the best tips may be to completely ignore the labels on front of the packaging.  Front labels try to lure you into purchasing products by making health claims. Manufacturers want to make you believe that their product is healthier than other, similar options. Manufacturers are often dishonest in the way they use these labels. They tend to use health claims that are misleading, and in some cases downright false.

Examples include many high-sugar breakfast cereals, like “whole grain” Cocoa Puffs. Despite the label, these products are not healthy.  This makes it hard for consumers to choose healthy options without a thorough inspection Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest amount.

Look At The Ingredients List:  Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to  lowest amount.  That means that the first listed ingredient is what the manufacturer used the most of.  A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, because they are the largest part of what you’re eating.  If the first ingredients include refined grains, some sort of sugar or hydrogenated oils, you can be pretty sure that the product is unhealthy.

Instead, try to choose items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients.        Another good rule of thumb is if the ingredients list is longer than 2–3 lines, you can assume that the product is highly processed.

Watch Out For Serving Sizes:  The backs of nutrition labels state how many calories and nutrients are in a single serving of the product.   However, these serving sizes are often much smaller portions than people generally eat in one sitting.  For example, one serving may be half a can of soda, a quarter of a cookie, half a chocolate bar or a single biscuit.  In this way, manufacturers try to deceive consumers into thinking that the food has fewer calories and less sugar than it actually does.    Many people are completely unaware of this serving size scheme. They often assume that the entire container is a single serving, while it may actually consist of two, three or more servings.