Understanding Food Labels


Marketing and health claims on packaging can be very misleading. Food manufacturers spend millions on marketing and persuading the consumer to buy their products.

Just because a food is packaged and labelled as being healthy does not mean that this is the case and so you shouldn’t necessarily trust the information that you are given.

Therefore, reading food labels and looking at the list of ingredients is the key to ensuring that you are making healthy choices when shopping.

Here are my top tips for reading and understanding food labels:

  1. Watch out for health claims that are stated on a product as these can be misleading and the food might not be as healthy as you are led to believe. For example, foods that are marketed as low fat or lower in fat tend to be high in sugar to make the product taste better so be warned of these health claims

  2. The ingredients are listed in descending order of weight used, i.e. if sugar is listed in the first few items then that tells you that the product is high in sugar, which is often the case for many well-known breakfast cereals. Also make sure that you read the 100g column as this will give you a clearer picture of what you are eating. Manufacturers will frequently list a 30g serving size but this is often not a realistic portion size

  3. Ingredients can be disguised by using different names, e.g. sugar can be listed as honey, nectar, corn syrup or as glucose, fructose etc. (anything ending in -ose are all sugar enzymes)

  4. Many food colourings, additives and preservatives (E numbers) are added to food which may not be good for you.  A good rule is that if you can’t pronounce anything or have never heard of it then think carefully about putting this into your body

  5. Avoid foods that contain trans fat – hydrogenated fats - as these fats have been altered and can cause oxidative stress in the body

I run workshops on reading labels and how to make healthier food choices so if you would like to know more, please get in touch here.