How to Read a Food Label

Written by Sheridan

March 21, 2017

When I was studying to become a nutritionist, we were taught to always refer to the nutrition panel on food. This is the table that lists the amount of fat, salt, sugar, carbohydrates and protein in the food. So, I began to do this and became obsessed by it.

I knew how many kilojoules/calories were in the food product but my health only continued to decline.  How could this be? The media and food companies also promote the benefits of reading the ‘nutritional information’ on food packaging as it will let you know the nutritional content of the food you’re eating.

Well, thank heavens I learnt better, as I began to discover the real truth of what’s actually contained in food. By reading the ingredient list of the food and NOT the nutritional panel, you will get the complete picture as to what the food has been made of.

Why shouldn’t you care about the nutrition panel?

‘Okay, so thank you but no thank you for letting us know how much fat, salt, sugar, carbs and protein is in the product. But sorry, it is practically useless’. It is absolutely crucial to discover EXACTLY where these food groups are coming from.

For example, one fat certainly does not equal another fat – where is the fat coming from? Is it coming from butter – produced from grass fed organic cows, or is it coming from hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine? Butter will provide an array of vital nutrients and quality saturated fats that the body can use, opposed to margarine which needs to be fortified with synthetic nutrients, which will destroy cell to cell communication resulting in weight gain and many other health problems.

When the nutrition panel may be helpful…

The only thing I will ever use a nutrition panel for is to demonstrate to someone how many sugars can be found in the food. This is because a product may add numerous types of sugars into the product, hidden by an endless list of names including sugar, glucose syrup, fructose, corn syrup, maltose, dextrose etc etc.

However – we don’t necessarily know exactly HOW much of that particular product they have added. Did you know that 1 tsp of sugar = 4g of sugar

For example, a yogurt branded as ‘healthy and low-fat’ can in fact be just like having a bowl of ice-cream for breakfast. In a single serve 170g pot of yogurt, there is 19.8g of sugar. Therefore, in this example that individual would be consuming close to 5 tsp of sugar.

The World Health Organisation recommends adults consume a maximum of 25 grams (6 teaspoons) a day. So in this instance, you’ve almost reached your daily intake recommendation of sugar by consuming one snack or part of a breakfast.  

What to look out for:

It is important to know what you are looking for, so consider the following:

  • ALWAYS look at the ingredients list first.
  • Watch out for products that say ‘low fat’, ‘no sugar’, ‘low calories/kilojoules’, ‘low carb’, ‘high protein’, or any claim alike.
  • Ensure the food groups come from high quality natural foods. For example, the sugar should come from dates, or the protein should come from grass fed beef, or the fat should come from coconut oil and the salt should come from Himalayan mineral rich salt.
  • If you can’t recognise the ingredient, then it is likely that your body won’t either, so it is best to avoid it.
  • Avoid ingredients such as: gluten, wheat, additives, numbers, preservatives, thickeners, flavours, flavour enhancers, vegetable oils, vegetable fats, dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin to name but a few.
  • The first ingredient in the ingredients list is what is contained most in the product, the last is what it contains the least of.

So remember to read the ingredient list first, when looking at a product. Where possible, prepare meals yourself using ‘real’ foods. If you are buying pre-packaged foods, then endeavor to go for products that only contain a few real food ingredients.

This change cannot be underestimated. Become educated, make changes step by step and you will reap the benefits of long-term health and vitality.

Happy real food shopping!

Sheridan Williamson
Changing Habits Nutritionist


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  1. Jodie

    Love it Sheridan. Thank you.


    I used to have a small “credit card” sized list from Changing Habits that listed the most common chemical additives in processed packaged that was very handy in checking labels when shopping. do you have a list you could send me, please, of those numbers and what they stand for?


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