At first glance, you would think reading a food label is easy. But be careful, things are not always what they seem. Brands use clever and misleading tricks to convince us to buy their products. From words like “fat-free” and “organic” to beautiful packaging, it’s very easy to be sucked in.
Next time you’re grocery shopping, here are three things to look for when reading a food label.
1. Look at the ingredient list
When you pick up a jar of peanut butter, you probably think there’s no point reading the label – you already know what’s in it, right? Don’t be fooled; you’ll be surprised what you’ll find inside. Ingredients on nutrition labels, by law, have to be listed in descending order by weight. So, if the first three ingredients include sugar or highly processed ingredients, you’ll want to put that product down. Also, if the ingredient list is mega long (more a couple of lines), stay clear! Nothing should contain that many ingredients, and certainly if none of them look like whole foods, but have weird and unpronounceable names.
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2. Look for secret sugars
Not all sugar is sweet! And we all know by now that we should be eating a whole lot less sugar, but it crops up in all sorts of packaged foods far too often. Seriously, be careful. Manufacturers are super sneaky and use different sugars with names you wouldn’t recognise. To help you decode labels, watch out for (obviously) any ‘sugar’ words, but also these sneaky ones: invert sugar, dextrose, maltol, fructose, sucrose, syrup, maltodextrin.
3. Look out for buzzwords
With so many food trends, diets and intolerances, marketers can have a field day creating labels to make you think their products are healthy. This isn’t to say all products and labels are the same—some claims are true—but it pays to do a little more investigation. The biggest buzzwords to watch out for include: sugar-free, gluten-free, low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, organic, natural, light and fruit-flavoured. To make these claims, some manufacturers use other ingredients (and chemicals) to engineer a similar flavour, so again, check the label. The more whole foods, the better!
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