Stop being tricked by food labels—learn to read them the right way

Hey everyone!!

Hope you’re all doing really well! Life’s been GREAT–and very busy!

Recently I did a grocery store tour with one of my amazing holistic wellness clients.  We talked about grocery shopping tips, how to avoid grocery store marketing strategies, what to buy for a whole foods diet, and my favorite—how to read labels properly.

If you’re not careful, you’re going to be buying food that you think is super healthy, when in reality, it’s not. food

Here are a few guidelines I follow when grocery shopping for packaged goods. I’m not perfect, and I don’t care to be, but this is usually what I go by:

  • I try to buy packaged foods that only have 1 ingredient in them, such as raw almonds, oatmeal, pure peanut butter, pure maple syrup.
  • If there is more than 1 ingredient, I make sure they are whole ingredients, and if not, ingredients that an 8 year old can understand (which means no chemicals, no preservatives).
  • I DON’T BELIEVE the claims on the front of the box. They’re there to catch your eyes, but are most always deceiving you.
  • I never buy low fat, fat-free, or ‘light’ products. Whole is better.
  • I don’t bother with daily value (DV) percentages on food labels. Government standards aren’t always the healthiest standards to follow.
  • I don’t look at calories anymore. Maybe that’s because I am already aware of the gist of most calorie contents, who knows. All I know is that I hate calorie counting.

Please remember these myths:

  • Low calorie does NOT mean healthier
  • Low fat does NOT mean healthier– Almost always it means they added more sugar. I’d rather have real fat than sugar. Sugar turns to fat ps…
  • Low carb does NOT mean healthier
  • Zero sugar does NOT mean healthier–like in diet poison soda.

Don’t evaluate a product based on one item (fat, sugar or salt content). Companies will pump a product with sugar to compensate for the low fat content. In order to meet the latest fad diet craze companies will put a lot of unhealthy ingredients to make it qualify.

There was a study done in 2001 that out of 30 low-carb nutrition bars, 60% were inaccurately labeled. Many had more carbs, sugars and salt than stated. Yikes.



–Made with whole grain…right…1% maybe.

–Low fat? Right…but what did you put into it instead?

–Good source of fiber? What does good mean?

See where I’m going?





Awhile ago I learned some great tips from Jeff Norvick which I included below. He’s a genius.

Here is how I analyze the food I buy. You’ll see why I buy mostly whole foods, and why I make the effort to make as much of my food as possible, without going crazy.

**I am not meaning to hit on any brands here, but I did use some common brands to help you remember better.

1. Analyze the order of the ingredient list

Notice the first think I look at is NOT calories? Calories don’t mean it all. I’d rather have something high in calories with super clean, chemical -free ingredients, than something with low calories because they added a bunch of who knows what that does who knows what to my body.

Companies write the ingredients in order from most prevalent to least.

The first ingredient that shows up on the list is the one with the most total weight.  For example, in Frosted Flakes, the first ingredient is milled corn. The second ingredient is sugar.  That means that they used more milled corn than sugar. It could be a fraction more for it to count.

Conclusion? Frosted Flakes (and most any cold cereal) is like having dessert for breakfast. Pump those kids with sugar, wohoo!

00038000391293_fullfrosted flakes

Flakes, label

I ALWAYS  check where sugar is on the list. You will be SHOCKED to see how often sugar is the second on the list, especially for breakfast cereals and granola bars!

If that is ever the case, I don’t buy it. I don’t want to be eating something that claims to be healthy—when there is so much sugar in it.

I will be writing about all the different names of sugar in the next post. That’s a fun one.

2. Read the ingredients

Here are 4 main ingredients I try avoid 100%:


The following ingredients have trans fats.

  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils (corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, palm oil)
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Shortening (such as Crisco). Maybe you make your pie crusts with vegetable shortening? Now you know at least:)
  • Margarine


Please avoid trans fats like the plague. The way I see it, once in your body, forever in your body.

*LOOK OUT: By law companies can declare their product has 0 trans fat if it contains 0.5 grams or less of trans fat. That’s why it’s important to read the ingredients!!! They really catch you there.

Common foods with trans fats:

  • Baked goods/desserts: Most crackers, cake mixes, frosting, pudding, cookies and pie crusts. Frozen pizza crusts, cinnamon roll dough, canned biscuits (and gravy), tortillas.So, so sad, I know.
  • Chips: Potato, corn, tortilla chips. Popcorn with butter usually does.
  • Dairy: Coffee creamers, margarine.
  • Fried foods: Doughnuts, french fries, fried chicken. Most fast foods have it.
  • Frozen dinners: Ironically, many weight loss diets are based from frozen dinners. Careful…

c7169f480539d82d655beb113dc95afc    download (1)670px-Make-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies-with-Store-Bought-Dough-Step-3 junk-food


I gotta tell you, I was sad when I first found out my favorite Mission tortillas were made with trans fat. What’s crazy is that they claim to have 0 trans fat. That’s a lie. See why it’s important to read the label?


Here are the ingredients from their site.  Trans fat is the 3rd ingredient. No thanks. Plus, why are there so many ingredients? I make tortillas with 3 ingredients. What thu? I don’t want whatever those chemicals are to be messing with my body. Plus, the ‘super soft’ description is a good indicator that they are made with weird chemicals.

Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Vegetable Shortening (Interesterified Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and/or Palm Oil), contains 2% or less of: Salt, Sugar, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate, Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate and/or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Calcium Sulfate), Distilled Monoglycerides, Enzymes, Wheat Starch, Calcium Carbonate, Antioxidants (Tocopherols, Ascorbic Acid, Citric Acid), Cellulose Gum, Guar Gum, Dough Conditioners (Fumaric Acid, Sodium Metabisulfite and/or Mono- and Diglycerides), Calcium Propionate and Sorbic Acid (to preserve freshness).


High fructose corn syrup is actually a refined grain…strange right? That’s a shout out to WHOLE grains right there! I never buy foods with that ingredient. This one I really, really stay true to. It’s terrible for your body, and it’s addicting. I try to avoid anything with corn syrup as well.

Jeff Norvick suggests to limit sugars to no more than 5 percent of total calories. That’s about 2 tablespoons a day. That’s a loooot less than most people are used to –especially the soda addicts.

Also, I challenge you to try to avoid foods that have sugar and other caloric sweeteners as the first 3-5 ingredients. Good luck…


Think lunch meats. I would recommend avoiding them for good.

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INGREDIENTS OTHERS HAVE SUGGESTED TO AVOID: Sodium Benzoate, Potassium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), blue green red and yellow artificial colors. MSG used to be one, but recent studies actually show it’s harmless.

3. Check out the serving size and how many servings are in it

Many products use servings that are way smaller than a person would eat. Check out Granny B’s cookie. Serving size is 1/4 of the cookie. Who eats 1/4th of a cookie? Also oil spray. Serving size is 0.25 grams. Unrealistic.

granny-bs-cookie-frosted-136900 Untitled


Also check how many servings are in the product.  That’s a place they like to trick you.

Granny B’s cookie for example, will have 4 servings, and each serving is 130 calories. Times that by 4=520 calories in one cookie. How does that sound?

A 32 oz big gulp has 4 servings in it. If each serving is 8 oz with 110 calories per serving, then 4 times 110 is 440 calories for one big gulp. More than you would think.

big-gulp Pic

4. Aim for whole wheat

Many products claim to be whole wheat, when they aren’t really. The goal is to buy products that are 100% whole wheat, or at the least, have whole wheat as the first ingredient.

If the first ingredient says wheat flour—then you know their claims to be, “Whole Wheat!” are not true. The first ingredient should be whole wheat, such as “whole wheat flour.”

bread2 download (2)

Pic source

See how this bread says it’s whole grain? The first ingredient says otherwise.

Here’s a list of ingredients that are whole grains

  • whole wheat flour
  • whole grain (name of grain)
  • wheat berries
  • oats, oatmeal (old fashion and even instant are whole)
  • brown rice
  • stone-ground whole

This is a list of ingredients that may sound whole, but are not.

  • wheat flour
  • semolina
  • multigrain
  • organic flour
  • durum wheat
  • stone-ground
  • enriched flour
  • white flour
  • degerminated
  • bran
  • wheat germ

It’s not guaranteed that the product is predominantly whole grain if the first ingredient is a whole grain. If the second ingredient is a whole grain, but the first isn’t, according to this site, the product may contain as little as 1% or as much as nearly half of the whole grain.

Also—aim for products that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. That’s usually a good sign that it actually has whole wheat.

So be careful, don’t be fooled. Deal?

4. Look at the sodium

Great advice I have heard is to make sure the amount of sodium in milligrams is not more than the amount of calories per serving. That’s a good way to keep the amount of sodium in check. Your daily goal should be less than 1,500mg of sodium.


This has 690 mg of sodium, and only 100 calories per serving. That’s too much according to the above standard. You would want 100mg of sodium if it were to fit in.

5. Calories from fat per serving

This one is mind blowing, and the biggest trick they have out there.

Companies put the amount of calories from fat per serving, but not the percentages, which is what we actually want to know.

When companies claim that a product is 99% fat free, they are basing that percentage off the percent of WEIGHT, not calories.

Here is a 99% fat free minestrone soup

image Pic

What you have to do is divide the calories from fat from the total calories.

Example from above: 25/100=0.25, which is actually 25% fat,(or 75% fat free) not 99% fat free they claimed it to be.

You can do this with SUGAR as well.  Each gram of carbs (sugar is a carb) is 4 calories. Convert the sugar grams to calories so that it’s in the same state as the fat calories we already mentioned. In the above  chart there are 2 grams of sugar. So 2 x 4=8. Now divide that by total calories, like so: 8/100=0.08, or 8% sugar.

General guideline:  The fat content should be 20% or less of total calories per serving.  A quick check without math is to make sure a product has 2 grams or less of fat per 100 calories.

The reduced-fat sour cream I just calculated was actually 70% fat. Interesting.


Let’s pick El Fudge by Keebler.

220 eld fudge


Ingredient list: Enriched flour makes it a possible fail for me. Sugar is the second ingredient, that’s a fail. It has nasty vegetables oils (but luckily not hydrogenated/trans fat although they used to). It has high fructose corn syrup, which, of all I said, makes it a fail the most.

It has a billion ingredients, I don’t like that, but the ingredient names are actually pretty simple to read compared to what I’ve seen. So, not too many weird chemicals, which is good. Oh and by the way, what is that TBHQ I see in the ingredient list anyway? Oh…it’s a form of butane (a bit overstated though). Five grams of it is a lethal dose. That sounds really appealing. I’m pretty sure people are trying to get that outlawed right now.

Let’s look at the serving size: 2 cookies. Hmmm…how many of you only eat 2 cookies at a time? And wow, each serving is 170 calories.

Sodium: 100 mg of sodium is less than the 170 calories per serving. Pass.

Fat percentage: 70/170=0.42, so this is 41% fat.

Sugar percentage: 12g x 4=48 calories of sugar. So 48/170=0.28, or 28% sugar.

Claims: “Made with 100% cocoa” and that matters because….?? Luckily they didn’t put any other weird claims—like that it’s a good source of potassium and such, like most cold cereals claim. Crazy.


This is going to be something I miiiight have on rare occasions. Keebler brand has always grossed me out. I will NEVER buy it for the home, but I would probably have some if they were just sitting around.  Whatever.

That’s it! Good luck grocery shopping next time! I encourage you to take another look at the food labels you often buy. You may be surprised at what you’re feeding yourselves.I ESPECIALLY encourage you to stick to buying whole foods, and keep that packaged food to a minimum. If you need help with that, let me know.

And don’t worry–doing this eval will get faster and faster the more you do it. It takes me about 10 seconds to get the main info I want. It’s worth knowing what you are eating! Once you find products you agree with, shopping will be a lot faster.

Just try to stick with whole foods, and see what foods you can make at home. I recommend making tortillas! Homemade taste AMAZING, and once you finally look at the ingredient list in the tortillas you’re buying…you’ll see why I prefer homemade:)

Come back next week to find out all the code names for sugar!

Have an incedible, life changing weekend!! Go HERE if you want to join the Healthy Games Health Challenge! The prize pot is over 40 thousand dollars so far, and I have a super fun, spunky team! I’d love to have you learning healthy habits with us! Last week we worked on emotional eating–it was a big hit!


What are YOUR strategies with food label reading?

What do you usually look at first on the label?

Have you ever stopped buying foods after finding out what was in them?

What’s one packaged food you LOVE?

32 thoughts on “Stop being tricked by food labels—learn to read them the right way

  1. Such a wonderful article! I have been reading ingredients for years and this is why I rarely ever buy anything packaged because it all garbage! These people care nothing about our health and it’s crazy to me how misinformed people are out there. People are SCARED of carbs, which I find hilarious because carbs (whole good carbs) are GOOD for us and our body needs them. People think carbs make you fat. No, eating too much junk makes you fat, not carbs!! I eat tons of whole food healthy carbs everyday of my life from the earth and I’m fit and lean.
    The vegan 8 recently posted…Lime and Cornmeal Crusted PotatoesMy Profile

  2. Great information!

    I like to make tortillas at home, but I buy them, too. Because of my schedule, I have to make them ahead of when I need them. But my family likes the homemade tortillas so much, they “disappear” before I get to use them. No one ever fesses up, and I suspect it’s all of them. So I still end up buying store brand tortillas to use for dinner.

    I need a secret fridge that no one knows about….on second thought, that might be a bad idea for me, too.
    Connie recently posted…Some Pain, but No GainMy Profile

    • Oh geez–same here. The problem is it takes more time making them, and then they are gone sooooo fast. I wish there was a super clean store bought version out there!!

      Haha, love the fridge idea! I would love that!

  3. This was a great post. I had no idea about palm oil! So glad I stopped by. I try really hard to read ingredient labels, but I admit to sometimes buying something just because it says organic. I really have to stop that. I was so surprised yesterday to see sugar as the second ingredient in my husband’s granola bars I pack him for lunches at work. Just sad…

    • Hey Hannah! What I meant by palm oil is to especially avoid it if it says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in front of it 🙂
      Yeah–organic products sure like to trick you, so careful, especially those hillarious organic granola bars. Thanks for your comment!!

  4. Love this post! A few years ago I watched two documentaries that had a profound affect on me: King Corn and Food Inc. Those scared the ever loving out of me, and now we buy very little packaged food. It’s truly scary what’s in some of the processed food out there. Fun fact, I had horrible migraines for years until I gave up diet soda. I haven’t had a single migraine since cutting out diet soda, and realized to my horror that it was aspartame triggering the migraines. Scary, scary stuff!
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  6. This post is awesome and full of so much invaluable information. I love it and love how you explained everything so well. I love how you said once trans fats are in your body they’re always in your body. That really made me stop and think.

    I’m always amazed how much sugar is in everything! I remember hearing once that if sugar is listed as one of the first three ingredients in a breakfast cereal, then don’t eat it. I’ve found very, very few cereals that don’t have it listed as one of the first three ingredients! Frightening.

  7. Thank you so much for posting such an informative, detailed and logical look at this! I was, in the past, definitely guilty of just buying whatever was “low-fat” or labeled attractively. Once I started college and began to learn more about health and nutrition, I started buying food for their ingredient list instead. Now, I’m not always perfect about this and sometimes a girl just craves an overly processed brownie mix, but overall I try to be very aware of what is in the products I buy.
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  8. Oh my gosh seeing all those disgusting food pictures actually made me a little sick.

    “Low” this “Low” that. Does a banana ever say “low fat” “low sugar” “low carb” etc. etc.? Nope. You know why? Because THAT’S what’s healthy.

    I feel so bad when people think they need to eat foods companies MAKE healthy in order to lose weight, when in reality they need to eat the healthy food that the earth already gives us.
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