You don’t need to be a biochemist but … you should absolutely learn a few tricks about reading labels. 

Today compare two labels. Go to your pantry and pick up a box of cereal and box of crackers. Ignore the statements on the front of the box and go straight to the labels and compare by following our quick guide:

How to read labels:

Question 1: What is the food made of?

The ingredients are listed by order, highest quantity first. What is the number one ingredient on your label? Some kind of grain? Is it refined or whole? Whole is better because a lot of the nutrients are in the whole part of the kernel. The more whole ingredients, the more fiber, the longer it will take your body to digest it. More fiber is better.

“Made with whole” on the front of the box often refers to just traces of whole ingredients.

What is the second ingredient?

Sugar? Sugar is listed by many different and obscure names. Most labels list at least three of these: glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), rice syrup, honey. If you add them up, would sugar jump into the first ingredient? A spoonful is 4 grams. Ask yourself: Would I pour 20 grams or five spoonful of sugar into my child’s cereal if I were making it myself?

Less sugar is absolutely better. No artificial sweeteners is better.

Question 2: What kind of fat?

Fats are not equal either; trans-fats going by the name of hydrogenated oils are harmful for you or your child.

In some countries, regulations do not require manufacturers to list trans-fat under 0.5 grams, although even that small amount is harmful. If your child consumes several different processed food products a day, trans-fats can add up without you realizing it.

Look for hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list.

Question 3: What else?

The less preservatives, artificial colors and additives, names of ingredients you can’t pronounce the better. Is there any ingredient you would not have expected?Unspecified “spices and flavors” can cover a lot of sins.

Question 4: How big is a serving?

How many servings are in the box or bag? Often the amount your child eats or drinks in one sitting contains two or more servings … so that the calories don’t look so high on the label.

Your turn:
If you are thinking: These ingredients, fats, preservatives and colorings are approved by authorities; how can they be harmful?

Try this instead: Labeling has to conform to regulations, not to my expectations. There is a difference between not harmful in small quantities versus nutritious and promoting health. Would I offer say a pinch of tri-sodium phosphate (cleaning agent and food additive) regularly to my child if I were making breakfast from scratch?

We will look at how to switch to healthier food next.

Feed well,