Your Complete Guide to read tricky food nutrition label


Do you know some manufacturers play some tricky game in packaged foods? You may wonder many foods marketed as healthy are actually not and many are misleading. Don’t be fooled by the health claim. So how can you identify them? What should you know? We are shorting out some names what they actually means along with some important factors.  In this article of Complete Guide to read tricky food nutrition label, you will get idea about reading food label for safer eating.

Complete Guide to read tricky food nutrition label

What are listed in food label?


Indicates what are added to make the food product. And thus it becomes the one most important part to check. It will tell you whether food is from natural source, whole food or processed or refined one, about additives, flavor, coloring agent, added sugar, salt, preservative used etc.

Serving Size

With service size manufacturers try to indicate the amount of the product a typical person consumes at once. They labels the amount of calorie,nutrients etc in per serving size. However in practical a person usually consumes more than a single serving size. Better you count much calorie in a single serving size and adjust yourself for the proportionate size.


Some manufacturer shows the amount of calorie available with the food item per serving or with a particular amount. However calorie comes from most processed food is easily released to blood and stored as fat when unused.On the other hand calorie comes from whole food combines fiber and other nutrients releases slowly. So, quality of the calorie matters.

Daily value %

Daily value guides you the percentage of a nutrient you will get from per serving or particular amount of the food product of your daily need considering a 2,000-calorie daily diet for healthy adults. For example of if per serving size indicates 4% DV of vitamin A you will get 4% of vitamin A of daily needs in a particular serving.

Nutrition Facts

Here you get the list as well as the amount of Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals available with the food products. However quality or bioavalability of such nutrients can’t be ascertained from here. For that you have to check the source of nutrients in the ingredient list.

Factors(some are misleading) you should consider before buy


Fats are not always bad rather they are vital components of the body. However selection as well as use of fats plays vital roles. You should avoid damage or rancid fats.

Saturated Fats: Despite of believe of association of saturated fats with heart disease research have not found link between saturated fat and heart disease. They are more stable than other form of fats and so are not easily damaged. Human body also produces saturated fats. However you should not consume too much.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs): Both of them contain health beneficial effects. However being the most delicate one high heat generation food processing can damage PUFAs. So you check type of food that contains PUFAs.

Trans Fat/ hydrogenated oil: Hydrogenated oil and man made industrialized synthetic trans fats negatively affects to the health. However some natural sources like dairy product, meat also may contain trans fats which acts differently than man made trans fats.

Cholesterol:Cholesterol is not always enemy. Rather cholesterol performs many vital functions inside the body. One important fact you should know that dietary cholesterol is poorly linked with blood cholesterol.Your blood cholesterol can increases due to some other reasons. Your liver will make cholesterol in response to different bodily response even you don’t eat cholesterol. Read about 10 best cholesterol lowering foods. Zero cholesterol or cholesterol free in food label actually doesn’t carry any major message. 


Light or lite

They are processed food intended to reduce at least 30% of one typical value such as calorie or fat. There may no major difference between foods that carry label light or lite and those that doesn’t carry the label. As those are processed food you rather should check added part in the food such as sugar, salt and other.

Nature identical flavored/fruit flavored

They may actually contain chemical which has identical flavor to natural foods or fruits.


Although it sounds healthy you can’t consider it as healthy unless made from whole grain. Most of the multigrain products are actually from refined grain.

Fortified and enriched

 Enriching is the process of returning back the lost nutrient during processing of the food. Fortified is adding extra nutrient to the food product. However quality or bio availability of such nutrients can’t be ascertained unless specially mentioned the source.

No added sugar

This indicates food doesn’t contain sugar as ingredient but that doesn’t mean food contains no sugar. This doesn’t mean the food is healthy. Also keep it mind that some food may have high sugar content naturally.They may also use unhealthy sugar substitute. Ingredient list will tell you what type of sugar or sweetener they are using.


This means that manufacturer is not using sugar or sweetener to make sweet taste. However food may contain sugar naturally.

Low calorie

Food labeled as low calorie may contain higher percentage of sugar. Hence check ingredient list before buying.  

Low carbohydrates

 Seems like healthy but can be made from processed foods, which are not healthy.

Low fat

 Such food may contain more sugar, hence always check for sugar content.


This term includes all the sodium in a food. Most sodium comes from sodium chloride or salt. Some food may also contain sodium as natural source. It may also come from additive used in the food as well as raising agents. You should better avoid food that contains excessive sodium or salts specially processed one.


Only certified organic can be considered as organic, other with organic claim may or may not be.

Food additives/Preservatives

Food additives or preservatives are usually chemical used in purposes like to keep food fresh, enhance life of the product, as acidity regulator, adding color,flavor or texture. You will find those in the ingredient list along with other ingredients.Some common food additives or preservatives may cause health problems, so you should either avoid or limit such additives. Foods with natural preservatives have shorter lifespan than with chemical preservatives usually. We have listed here some common additives here as below:   

Added sugar/Sweetener

Added or refined sugar not only increase blood sugar level but also has wide range of negative health effects. To know more read 9 reasons why you should avoid added sugar.

Sugar also hides in many foods by different names with a long list. Some of the names where sugar hides includes: Agave nectar, Barbados sugar, Barley malt, Barley malt syrup, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Buttered syrup, Cane juice, Cane juice crystals, Cane sugar, Caramel, Carob syrup, Castor sugar, Coconut palm sugar, Coconut sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Date sugar, Dehydratedcane juice, Demerara sugar, Dextrin, Dextrose, Disaccharides, Evaporated cane juice, Fructose, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, Golden sugar, Golden syrup, Grape sugar, Honey, HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup), Icing sugar, Invert sugar, Malt syrup, Malt powder, Maltodextrin, Maltol, Maltose, Mannose, Maple syrup, Molasses, Muscovado sugar, Organic raw sugar, Palm sugar, Panocha, Powdered sugar, Raspadura sugar, Raw sugar, Refiner’s syrup, Rice syrup, Saccharose, Sorghum Syrup, Sucrose, Sweet Sorghum, Syrup, Treacle, Turbinado sugar, Yellow sugar and more

Artificial sweetener

Artificial sweetener may have lower calorie. Some common artificial sweetener includes  Aspartame, Acesulfame potassium-k, Saccharin, Sucralose, Neotame. Artificial sweetener aspartame used in food or beverages appears to have negative health effect. Best thing is to limit consumption of sugar or artificial sweetener.

Flavor enhancers

Mono sodium glutamate (MSG), some people experience sensitivity to MSG. Yeast extract usually contains glutamate and salt. It is usually added with foods like cheese, sauce and snacks for flavor enhancement. You should avoid large amount. Usually artificial flavoring agents don’t promote health, better to avoid or if not possible limit consumption.

Food coloring

Most artificial food coloring is found in unhealthy processed foods and better to avoid. Usually they have no nutritional value. Better to look for product that does not contain artificial color. Some common coloring agents having critical views includes Blue 1, blue 2, Red 2, Red 3, Green 3, Red 40, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6


Preservatives which may cause health problems are some as benzoates 210, 211, 212, 213; nitrates 249, 250, 251, 252; sulphites 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225 and 228.

Sodium nitrite, nitrate combined with processed meat is linked with cancer. Some manufacturer adds Sodium benzoate (E211) as preservative in food andbeverages. Sodium benzoate may act negatively to health. Sodium Sulfite (E221) is found in wine and dried fruit, some people found sensitiveness to it. Sulfur Dioxide (E220) contains toxicity and can be found in drinks, wine, beverages, potato foods and some other. Butylatedhydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used in cereals,chips, chewing gum and vegetable oils. After all synthetic preservatives also posses no nutritional value and can’t be called as good for health.

Emulsifier may affect negatively to the health, can increase intestinal permeability, inflammation and is associated with obesity. (1)

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E)

 Such additives contain antioxidant properties and can have health promoting effects.

Guar gum

 Guar gum a long chain carbohydrate that binds and thickens food. It is considered to be safe in moderate intake. Some people may experience gas, bloating etc.

Xanthan gum

 Manufacturers use it for thickening and stabilizing foods such as salad dressings, soups, syrups and sauces. Generally is considered as safe with moderate intake.

We are trying to cover up as much as possible in a single article. Finally it is better to stick to whole foods preferably organic as well as control or limit your consumption food with artificial synthetic chemicals. Artificial synthetic additives has no nutritional value and may create health problem. Hope this will help you to identify packaged food at least to an extent.

1.Food preservatives linked to obesity and gut disease, Nature, Sara
Reardon, 25 Feb. 2015

Bikramjit Konwar

Author: Bikramjit Konwar


2 Responses

  1. An informative post. In India people are becoming aware and asking questions about ingredients in their food.

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