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Stop Being Fooled by Food Labels!

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Woman reading food label ingredients.

Do you read food labels now?

Are you confused by all the claims on the food packaging?

Do you pick up a box or package of food and wonder is this really healthy for me?

This blog post on Stop Being Fooled by Food Labels and the video of the same title are to empower you!

Knowledge is power if you take action.

Let’s figure out how you can easily and quickly decipher food labels, determine if the food is really healthy for you and how to select the healthiest foods.

All the links for my research will be listed at the end.

Listen in or read on below to learn how to Stop Being Fooled by Food Labels!

How to Easily and Quickly Decipher Food Labels

Boxes and packaging are a marketing strategy to make you pick up that food item and buy it.

The manufacturer will make all kind of claims to get you to throw it in your cart.

Stop! Don’t believe the claims! Let’s get label savvy!

Here are some common claims and what they actually mean:

  • Healthy - per the FDA website their latest criteria are based on certain amounts for an added sugar limit, sodium limit and saturated fat limit for grains, dairy, vegetables, fruit products, some proteins and some oils. So, processed white sugar, white table salt and white flour are all considered healthy. More to come on this.

  • Natural – the product originally started with something natural like bananas or spinach. The FDA has not formally defined “natural”. More on this to come too.

  • Gluten-free – just means there is no wheat, spelt, rye or barley. The food can still be highly processed and unhealthy. On their website the FDA defines gluten-free as 20 parts per million of gluten or less. Even with this amount of gluten, people with celiac may have a reaction, some may be extreme. Some foods are marked as gluten-free that would never have gluten in them any way unless the manufacturer added it.

  • Fruit flavored – may actually not have any fruit in it at all. It may be artificially flavored with chemicals.

  • Multigrain – just means it contains more than one type of grain. Probably refined grains.

  • Made with whole grains – some of the most sugary children’s cereals are made with whole grains and if a whole grain isn’t at the top 3 in the list there may be very little actual whole grains.

  • Fortified or enriched – means they added some vitamins or nutrients to the product. This doesn’t necessarily make it healthier.

  • Light – are processed to reduce calories or fat. Possibly watered down. Sugar also may be increased.

  • Low-Fat – the fat may be reduced but the sugar and salt may be increased.

  • Low-carb – this is a buzz word and the product may be highly processed.

  • No sugar added – unhealthy chemical sugar substitutes like the pink, blue or yellow packets (Sweet ’N Low (Saccharin), Nutrasweet (Aspartame) or Splenda (Sucralose) may have been added. Some foods also may be naturally high in sugar.

  • Organic – verify what’s organic. Sugar and seed oils can also be organic.

  • No-Fat – no fat means they had to flavor it somehow. There may be more sugar and/or salt added.

  • Zero trans-fat – allows for .5 grams of trans fat per serving. There is still trans-fat and if they make smaller servings then you may eat more.

Do your detective work to decipher their claims and look at the ingredients.

Let’s take a closer look at what “Natural” means per the FDA according to their website:

Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term "natural," we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of "natural" in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term "natural" to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term "natural" should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”

Do know the FDA also allows food products with ingredients produced with genetic engineering (GMO) and High Fructose Corn Syrup in “natural” foods.

So don’t be fooled, “natural” means nothing.

Is the Food Really Healthy?

Per the FDA’s website this is their new chart on how they define healthy:

FDA Proposed Criteria for Certain Food Groups and Sample Foods
FDA Criteria for Health Protein
FDA Criteria for Healthy Oils

On the chart it shows Grains and Dairy can have 2.5 grams of added sugar per serving. This is equivalent to over ½ tsp.

Let’s look at a couple of food examples:

If we look at ¾ cup Dannon non-fat yogurt it has 13g of carbohydrates which is the equivalent of over 3 tsp of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar but considered healthy per the FDA since it isn’t added sugar.

Dannon Nonfat yogurt

Dannon Nonfat Yogurt Nutrition facts

Barilla Spaghetti noodles Nutrition Facts

If we look at Barilla spaghetti noodles (made with wheat) a serving size per their box is 2 oz and 42 grams of carbohydrates.

Barilla does not have added sugar but the carbohydrates listed on the box per serving is the equivalent of 10 ½ tsp of sugar.

Would you ever add 10 ½ tsp of sugar to a single serving of anything? If you will don’t let me know. ;)

But the FDA says for grains you should only eat ¾ oz of whole grains.

Will you only eat ¾ oz of spaghetti? Probably not!

The sugar equivalent of the ¾ oz of spaghetti is still 16.8 gm which is a little over 4 tsp of sugar. Still a lot of sugar but considered healthy per the FDA.

The FDA put a limit of 230mg of salt on each food group but didn’t specify what type of salt. White table salt (like the one with the little umbrella girl - Morton) should not be eaten.

If you are still eating white table salt, please switch to sea salt or Himalayan Salt for your best health.

The FDA put a limit on saturated fats 5% on all groups with dairy at 10%.

They never specified what types of saturated fats.

Saturated fats have been villainized.

Saturated fats include:

  • milk

  • cheese

  • butter

  • meats such as pork, beef, lamb, and poultry

  • coconut and palm oil

As you can see, they’re mainly found in animal proteins and tropical oils.

There are healthy versions of those saturated fats.

If you eat organic, grass-fed, grass finished, pasture raised, free-range, humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone free then these are great sources of fat.

Look for those on your label.

Organic coconut or organic palm oil are also healthy sources of fat in moderation.

Vegetable and seed oils are really the oils you should be concerned about. They are not healthy!

How to Select the Healthiest Foods

As you’ve seen the health claims, labeling on boxes and packages can be misleading and are more for marketing purposes.

Here are some guidelines that I use to select healthier foods:

  1. Food products with 1 ingredient don’t need a label. This would be ideal.

  2. If there is more than 1 ingredient then 5 or less ingredients are best.

  3. Do you know what all the ingredients are and can you pronounce them?

  4. Natural or Artificial colors or flavors. Put it back on the shelf!

  5. Vegetable or Seed oils (corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower, canola, peanut). Put it back on the shelf!

  6. Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame or saccharine) and High Fructose Corn Syrup. Put it back on the shelf!

  7. BHA, BHT, MSG, Sodium Nitrates, Sodium Nitrites goes back to the shelf.

  8. Known GMO foods. Go back to the shelf! Here's the link to my blog / video on GMO/Bio-engineered foods.

  9. The ingredients show on the list in quantity order from most to least on how much is in the product. Look for added sugar. I have found at least 126 names for sugar now. In order for sugar to not show up in the first few ingredients manufacturers will use multiple types of sugar. *** Notice I haven’t looked at the Nutrition Facts yet. Ingredients are more important! Often if the food is not healthy it is back on the shelf before I look at nutrition facts.

  10. If there is a food label and I have gotten past the above criteria then I will look at the nutrition facts to see how many carbohydrate grams and how many added sugar grams the food has and compare to the ingredients to see where they are coming from. If there are a lot then the food is put back on the shelf!

  11. Another trick the manufacturer may use is to change the serving size to smaller so it doesn’t look like there is as much sugar, or other unhealthy ingredients in the product. If it’s a small package then someone also may assume it is single serving and not 2 or more servings and eat the whole package.

I know it doesn’t cover all the unhealthy ingredients but it’s a great start.

Manufacturers want to sell their foods and they will do everything they can to get you to buy it, even if it’s misleading.

Save this blog to refer to later and share it. I know there was a lot of information.

It does get easier to decipher their marketing jargon and determine if the food is really healthy.

Bottom line is avoid processed foods and opt to eat more real whole foods. They are your best choice for better health.

Know what you’re eating! It matters to your health!

If you have some more tips and tricks you use, please put them in the comments below. We can all learn from each other.

Was this helpful? Do you feel like you can make better choices when reading food labels now?

Are you able to Stop Being Fooled by Food Labels?

Let me know in the comments below or shoot me an

email - I would love to hear.

Live life empowered!

A great way to start eating clean real food is found in my cheat sheet below. It's FREE!

Clean Food Cheat Sheet OptIn

Sheri Johnson - Holistic Health & Life Coach

Sheri Johnson is a certified Transformational Holistic Health and Life Coach in the Central Florida area. She believes everyone deserves an amazing healthy, balanced life, full of energy and feeling fantastic! When you get back on track in life and feel like yourself again then you can easily step into who you truly want to be, living out your purpose, passion and what you were called here to do.

If you are ready to decrease stress and overwhelm while creating balance in your body, mind and spirit then please check out her website and book a free strategy session with her below.


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