Having the knowledge to read food labels with confidence is a great tool, giving you control over which foods or ingredients you feed your body and which ones you steer clear of. It can keep you on track with your overall health goals. However, sometimes reading labels is stressful, confusing, and overwhelming as some companies are misleading or manipulate facts for marketing purposes. Once you get the hang of it, though, reading labels will be second nature, as you quickly scan the back of a package and know right away if you want it.

In this two-part series, we’ll first look at how to interpret the ingredients list and what to avoid, as well as understanding those all-important carb numbers. In Part 2, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sugar and sugar alcohols in foods.

Here are your must-know guidelines to follow when looking at the nutrition facts on the back of a packaged food.

It’s essential to look at the ingredient list first before you get caught up in the numbers game. If the ingredients don’t make the grade, then there’s no point in continuing. Remember that the ingredients list is ordered from largest to smallest amount used to make the product.

Watch for additives, preservatives, and chemicals and try to choose organic whenever possible.

AVOID:

  • MSG
  • Artificial food colorings (can cause allergic reactions, thyroid issues, ADHD, etc.)
  • Sodium Nitrate (preservative in processed meats that increase the risk of cancer)
  • Artificial sweeteners (can cause digestive distress and headaches)
  • Sodium Benzoate
  • Artificial Flavorings
  • BHA and BHT
  • Olestra
  • Potassium Bromate
  • Partially hydrogenated oils

The ingredient list is particularly important for those with food allergies and sensitivities. There are 8 common food allergens, including eggs, milk, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat (gluten), and soy.

Common food allergens to avoid may be listed on food labels as:

  • Eggs: albumi, ovalbumin, mayonnaise, lysozyme.
  • Milk: casein, galactose, lactate, hydrolysate, whey.
  • Peanut: arachic oil, beer nuts, earth nuts, hydrolyzed peanut protein.
  • Tree nuts: Artificial flavoring, nut butters, nutmeat, nut oil.
  • Fish: fish meal, fish sauce, surimi, fish oil.
  • Shellfish: barnacle, fish stock, surimi, seafood