How to Read Food Labels Properly

figuring labels
It would probably surprise you to know that, in this day and age of healthy living and weight-consciousness, most people simply read the front of the packaging and accept products at face value. Most shoppers simply accept that a product is ‘low-fat’, ‘high in fiber’ or ‘a healthy snack’. People buy a product, because it’s labelled as ‘all natural’ or because they are attracted to the wrapper.

When was the last time you turned a package around and checked the actual ingredient list or nutritional values of your groceries? You would be amazed to find out what you have been consuming all these years!

Take a simple example that most women will be able to relate to: Health biscuits. Most brands of health biscuits claim to be a healthy snacking alternative, loaded with seeds, grains and other high fiber ingredients. How many of them mention that they are also loaded with sugar? Don’t believe me? Read the label!

Simply follow these 5 easy steps to reading your food label:

how to read a label

Step 1: Check your serving size, is it the correct portion for you? If not, then adjust accordingly BUT adjust the percentage of carbohydrates accordingly.

Step 2: Check the calories. Is this food item worth the amount of calories? Most (but not all) foods that are high in calories, are high in carbohydrates.

Step 3: Check your recommended daily allowance.

Step 4: Limit these nutrients (in the pink section). Specifically limit the amount of carbohydrates to 3g per 100g or to 3% or less, especially if you are trying to lose weight.

If you are only trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, 5% is acceptable. Products high in sodium are also really bad for your blood pressure.

Step 5: Get enough of the nutrients in the green area. Once again being very cautious of carbohydrates. recently did a survey on the most misleading food labels, read more about it at,,20599288,00.html

Some of the major offenders that they discovered were ‘All natural’, ‘Multigrain’ and ‘Sugar Free’.all antural

‘All natural’ is such a loose term nowadays. Some food items are labelled as ‘all natural’ but contain ingredients such as corn syrup. Manufacturers then argue that this ‘n byproduct of corn, which is a natural and healthy ingredient. This leaves plenty of room for interpretation and no wrong-doing from our major food producers.

‘Multigrain’ is another nice hiding place…It is not enough to say that an item is made of multigrain ingredients, look for descriptions that state 100% wholegrain or 100% whole wheat. If a product does not specify these ingredients they are most likely not as healthy as you think.

anatomy of grain

Our last top offender is ‘Sugar Free’. What most people don’t realise is that a sugar-free option can still contain more carbohydrates than the alternative that contains sugar. Again – sugar free does not mean carb free! Always check the label to make sure that you are choosing the correct option for your dietary needs.

Think about the term “No sugar added!” This does not mean that the product does not contain sugar, it simply means that no additional sugar was added to the product.

Woman’s Health even found that most of our diet/health food ‘suggested serving’ portions are too large. (Read more about it at


To put it simply, they have found that we overlook hidden calories, like liquid calories. Most imported drinks offer a larger serving size than is allowed in most conventional diets. We don’t notice this, because in our minds we are enjoying one can, which equals one serving. Right? Wrong!

What should you look for when reading a food label?

It is really simple. All the ingredients are listed in order of amount, starting with the ingredient that makes up most of the food first and then the rest of the ingredients in descending order as they make up less and less of the product. All labels should provide you with the amount of fats, sugars, proteins and carbohydrates contained per serving or per 100 grams. If you are trying to lose weight, stick to products that contain 3g (or less) of carbohydrates per 100g.  If you are uncertain about the amounts of each food group you should be consuming, book a free consultation at our pharmacy and we can work out a program tailored to your specific needs.

Now, look at the nutrients and fats listed. Do you know all of these? Find out as much as you can about all the items listed. It might shock you to know how many of these ingredients are synthetic, preservatives or added flavourants.

If you are looking for low-carb foods, don’t fall for words like ‘Light’, ‘Lean’, ‘Sugar-Free’ and ‘Less Fat’. This does not in any way mean that its low in carbohydrates. It simply means that some ingredient or other has been omitted, but most likely replaced with another unhealthy option.

Always go for natural, home-made ingredients as far as possible. Whenever an ingredient is pre-cooked or ready-made it is usually filled with sodium and all sorts of preservatives which provides it with its longer than usual shelf-life. These products are an unhealthy addition to your diet, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol or certain food intolerances.

chek labels

Always check your food labels to confirm the amount of sugar and carbohydrates you are consuming!  Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


It becomes very clear then that reading your food labels becomes a necessity when you are trying to achieve a balanced, healthy eating style. If you had a cheat-sheet in a test and you were allowed to use it – you would, wouldn’t you?

Why not use the ultimate cheat-sheet and find out which hidden calories are lurking in your favourite breakfast bar or ‘all natural fruit drink’. What are you waiting for, do it!


Remember that these guidelines will only bring you so far in your weight loss journey. If you require assistance in working out an eating plan that has been scientifically proven to bring weight loss then contact us and join the 94% success rate that we offer our clients!


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