Label reading part 2

Advance label reading

Getting down to the fine print. Figuring out what is real in the ingredients


Magnify and look closely at the label above. 

Ingredients – this is the most important part of the labeling . It is often in small print and hidden on a corner or remote part of the container. I go straight to this section of the label when looking at packages and reviewing the quality for patient’s. This is where the real names and chemicals , compounds, preservatives, taste enhancers, thickeners, food coloring are hidden and can almost be deciphered. . Any multi-syllabic and hyphenated chemical compound additive you cannot pronounce is listed here . Words and phrases such as starch, to preserve freshness, and flavor additives with numbers are some of the content listed here.

Things to look out for in this section that are not good for you or your children:

Protein- soy protein isolates ( chemically processed soy)

Vegetable oil- as unhealthy processed oils such as palm oil, soy oil, and other unnatural oils. Examples of good oils are organic unprocessed olive, safflower or canola if any oil.

Amino acids- have salt

Starch- another word for corn starch, modified corn starch,  and unnatural fillers.

Sweeteners – corn sweeteners , high fructose corn syrup, rice sugar, maltose. An acceptable sweetener is with real organic fruit juice.

Fiber- Should be from good real plant sources not cellulose which can be from wood pulp even though they can list it as vegetable fiber. Not a source of fiber you would choose to eat if you had a choice.

Chemical additives- words with any number, for color, for freshness, for taste, preservative should be a SOS for an unnatural product.

Nutrition facts – making the deception complete- This is the part of the label with the percentages of RDA ingredients. The real facts are in the small print ingredients and very small print the asterisk

Oil is fat . Good bad or otherwise, plain and simple. It does not add any food value to the package. What is the percentage of saturated to unsaturated. Unsaturated is better. Select as little saturated as possible. Really want to keep the number for processed foods to 3 gm. There are a number of natural real foods with high fat but these are whole plant foods with unsaturated fat.

Salt or sodium, The lower the better on the package. As close to zero as possible but shoot for under 100 or less at least. The daily allowance sodium has been moved to 1500 from 2,000 for optimal health. Add it up per serving size. Products often have upwards of 500 mg per serving using salt as a preservative and to hide processed unnatural flavors.

Sugar- cane sugar, brown sugar, sweeteners, chemicals sugar substitutes. Want no added sugar. Actually would prefer for the sugar number to reflect only the natural sugar in the food itself. For instance fruit sugar from the fruit itself will account for the grams of sugar let’s say an apple has natural fructose or fruit sugar, but the label will not say any other sugar added by not saying cane sugar, or natural brown sugar etc..Sweetened with fruit juice with a low sugar number 3-5 gm is an acceptable form of sugar added.

Protein- the recommended daily allowance is 56 gram of protein for  a man and 46 grams of protein for a woman in a day. ( Even though many health experts recommend less) The number here is not particularly helpful without knowing the source. Not all protein is the same or healthy.

Fiber – good sources of natural fiber have at least 3- 5 gm of fiber. The source, see above, will be crucial.

Cholesterol- related to the fat, a new notation on the box, convincing you the product is healthy if it does not have direct cholesterol. But your body can still turn fats and oils into cholesterol. So this number has very little value other than marketing. Low cholesterol is not synonymous with healthy.

Potassium – is good for many of your body function especially heart and blood vessels but the best source if from natural food.The number on processed food is not very important.

Carbohydrates- another new catch phrase for health. The number does not indicate anything of significance. There are good and bad carbs. Equating the absolute number with any reason to buy a package is not meaningful

Portion size. Listed at the very top of the nutrition facts is crucial in understanding how many calories per serving or how much fat or protein for a meal. The portion size could be only 1/4 or 1/2  of what you perceive as a serving  How many nutrients , calories, fat per the real serving size is what counts.

Vitamin fortified-how do they do this . Are these vitamins necessary for your health. Is the form in this package even useful for you or healthy for that matter? . Wouldn’t it be better to get these vitamins from real fruits and vegetables?

HealthfulMD message : In this constantly changing battle with packaging information it is difficult to tell what is really healthy for you and your family. The only true way to make sure what you put in your mouth has not been altered , modified, or preserved it to buy real foods and organic products as much as possible. Once a food source passes through factory processing of any sort the name change game begins and you are playing poker with altered “food products”. Make sure you use due diligence in selecting any food you purchase.


Warren Krantz MD, FAAP