Label Reading Tips

The first thing you’ll see is the label on the front of the food package. Manufacturers can say most anything they want on the front label (to get the real story, see the Nutrition Facts panel on the back, especially the Ingredients). Here are some terms you may see there, and what they really mean:

  • Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus. This means nutrients such as minerals and fiber have been removed and synthetic vitamins added in processing. Look for 100% whole-wheat or 100% whole grain bread for example.
  • Fruit drink. This means there’s probably little or no real fruit, and lots of sugar. Look for products that say “100% Fruit Juice,” or better yet, have the piece of fruit instead, which is better for blood sugar balance.
  • Made with wheat, rye, or multigrain. These products may have very little whole grain. Look for the word “whole” before the grain to ensure you’re getting a 100% whole grain product (wheat flour is just another name for white flour).
  • Natural. The manufacturer started with a natural source, but once it’s processed, the food may not resemble anything natural. Look for “100% All Natural” and “No Preservatives.”
  • Organically grown, pesticide-free, or no artificial ingredients. Trust only labels that say “Certified Organically Grown.”
  • Sugar-free or fat-free. Don’t assume the product is low-calorie. The manufacturer may have compensated with unhealthy ingredients — and have no fewer calories than the real thing.

As a general guideline, ingredients are listed in descending order—the main ingredient is listed first and the smallest ingredient is listed last; usually, fewer ingredients are best, and always avoid products with words you can’t pronounce.