Cracking the Code: Your Ultimate Guide to Read Food Labels

Cracking the Code: Your Ultimate Guide to Read Food Labels

Ever felt utterly confused by the ingredient lists that seem like it is written in a foreign language? Food labels are meant to inform us but often just leave us more confused. With so many products lining grocery shelves, it's tough to differentiate the truly nutritious from the ones with fake claims.

But fear not - we're here to break down food labeling mysteries and make you a label-reading pro. 


1) Start with the ingredient list 

    Always start at the top. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight percentage, so the initial few ingredients are present in higher quantities and play a bigger role. If the first few ingredients are refined sugars, refined flours like maida, unhealthy fats, consider it a red flag. Also watch out for chemicals such as additives, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors. The fewer and more whole ingredients, the better.


    2) Common Culprits:Fillers, Preservatives, INS numbers and More Science-y Terms

    Ever wonder that a "flavor enhancer" could be MSG or I+G instead? Too many additive names hide behind innocent ones! Preservatives, flour treatment agents, stabilizers, emulsifiers with INS numbers are usually a chemical based additive. 




     3) Allergen Alert: The Big 8 Lurking Ingredients

    Have to check for allergies? Even if the ingredient list does not have any of the listed allergens an  ingredient, it's always important to check the allergen statement as some ingredients can have the allergen as a part . For example, soy lecithin (INS 322) which is made from soybeans, should be avoided by people allergic to soy. By law, if an item contains any of the top 8 allergens - milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soy - it must be clearly labeled. 


    4) Figuring the Nutrition info 

    The nutrition information can also help decide how good or bad the product is for your body. Higher protein and dietary fiber values are always a win. Another trick is to look at the added sugar and total sugar values. To simplify the concept, total sugars would include the quantity of all sugars present in the product and includes the natural sugars present in ingredients like fruits, nuts, honey, dried fruit, flours, milk etc. Whereas the added sugar is the quantity of sugar added to the product in the form of refined sugar, liquid glucose, dextrose, invert syrup etc. 


    5) Understand Daily Values

    Percent daily values (%DV) indicate how much a single serving contributes to your daily nutritional needs of that nutrient. A higher %DV (nutrient per serving is high) or lower %DV (nutrient per serving is low) could be good or bad depending on the nutrient, like a high DV for proteins, vitamins is desirable whereas a low %DV for added sugar or sodium would be good. This perspective helps assess a food's true impact on your wellness goals.


    6) Seek the Short and Simple

      The cleaner the ingredients, the better your snack or meal choice. Opt for whole foods versus highly refined or preserved options whenever you can. If the ingredients are a long list and include weird chemicals, it's your sign to stay away! Your health and your wallet will thank you!


      Now you've got the tools to feel confident decoding those cryptic labels. Remember - ingredients are there to inform your choices, not dictate them. 

      Now go forth and keep decoding, food detectives! 

      Your mission is to eat well.

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