How To Read And Interpret The Food Label

There are three parts to a grocery store product: Marketing, Food Label and Ingredient List

Crazy Claims

What’s on the front? Hype vs. Type

Claims themselves, even though they are within the context of the law, can lead us astray due to the food industry taking advantage of loopholes in their marketing of their products. Claims are not pre-reviewed or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


“Calcium builds strong bones.” There is more to bone than just calcium. Does this relate back to the product?

“Colon health.” There is more to colon health than just fiber.

“Reduced Sodium.” Is it less sodium than their previous product? Is the serving size smaller? It may not mean that the product is low in sodium.

“Healthy.” Is the food great overall? How much do you need to eat? How often do you need to eat it to be healthy?

Claims that do not need to be approved: (Structure/Function claim—no evidence needed and do not deal with disease risk reduction). The company is responsible for not misleading consumer.

Ex. Maintains, supports, enhances, optimizes.)

Helps maintain normal cholesterol levels

Supports immune system

Promotes digestion

For hot flashes

Relieves stress

Health Claims are approved due to disease claim: (Based on solid evidence and will signify a relationship between a nutrient and a disease or condition)

Sample Claim: “While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of this disease.”

Big bold claims on the package are designed to get you to buy.

Front label misconceptions:

Reduced-fat. Ex. One ounce of reduced-fat cheddar cheese still has 6 grams of fat and 4 grams saturated fat. Regular has about 10 total grams. Also means 25 percent less.

Whole-grain. Ex. Made from whole grain or contains whole grain. Where is it on the ingredient list? Does it contain 3 or more grams of fiber?

Natural ingredients. Ex. No standard definition. Juice–“Made with natural ingredients.” Why is high fructose corn syrup near the top of the ingredient label? Steak fat is natural….

No food additives or preservatives. Ex. Can be high in sugar and fat and low in overall nutritional value.

Light. Definition is 30 percent less than the standard product. Ex. Soy sauce-all are high in sodium.

Made from. This is where the food started. What happened to it along the way? How much of this product is still there? Ex. Whole-grain and real fruit.

Fat free. Ex. 95 percent fat free. Still five percent of total weight is fat. Can mean 25% fat from calories. Fat free means less than 0.5 grams per serving (trans fat). Low fat means 3 grams or less.

Enriched. Good stuff was taken out and then replaced.

Organic. Look for “certified organically grown.” Only wording that means the food was grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Calorie free. Contains less than five calories per serving. Low calorie =

Healthy Fats—Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)—sodium salt and a form of glutamate (glutamic acid-amino). Fermentation of corn, sugar beets, or cane. MSG is also found naturally in foods (Some cheeses (parmesan, roguefort), mushrooms, seaweed, tomatoes, walnuts). Contains 12% sodium as compared to 39% in table salt. May cause chest pain, rapid heart beat, headaches, Excitotoxicity (overactive receptors that damage neurons), and linked to fibromyalgia..

Hydrolyzed proteins, textured protein, autolyzed yeast, soy sauce, soy extracts, natural flavorings, sodium and calcium caseinate, auxigro (growth enhancer spray for fruit and vegetables).

High Fructose corn syrup—increased fructose (slightly more than sucrose) sweetener from corn syrup. Cheaper, extended shelf life and blends easier. May increase triglyceride levels.

Fructose—Used as an inexpensive, sweeter substitute for sugar. May lead to bloating, insulin resistance, elevated triglyceride and LDL cholesterol. Impairs copper, chromium and zinc absorption. All fructose is metabolized in the liver, which may cause health issues. Was known to be better for diabetics but is being re-evaluated.

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