Making Sense Of Nutrition Labels (Part 1 of 3)


Over all my years of being in the health and fitness industry I have literally had thousands of questions about how to read nutrition labels.

Reading and understanding nutrition labels can be extremely overwhelming and confusing.

With no uniform ‘serving size’ and ingredients that can go by multiple names it can be hard to make heads or tails of what you are reading and what is right for you.

So in this blog series, I am going to attempt to give some of my top tips for breaking down nutrition label basics.

1. Ingredients 101

Ingredients on products are listed from highest contained amount, to lowest.
Meaning if sugar is ingredient number one, that product is going to be full of sugar!

When you are looking at packaged foods, especially from a health perspective, you want to be aware of the order of the ingredients. Sugars, additives, oils, preservatives should all be at the end of the list OR not included in the products at all, for eg. oats - they come in a package but it is possible to buy 100% oats.

2. Sneaky Other Names

Sticking with ingredients, you may find some common ‘baddies’ given other names to make it look like not as much is contained in the product. A good example of this is sugar.

Here is an example of just some of the names sugar can be labelled on a nutrition label.

Sugar - dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrupcarbitol, concentrated fruit juice, corn sweetener, diglycerides, disaccharides, evaporated cane juice, erythritol, Florida crystals, fructooligosaccharides, galactose, glucitol, glucoamine, hexitol, inversol, isomalt, maltodextrin, malted barley, malts, mannitol, nectars, pentose, raisin syrup, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, rice syrup solids, sorbitol, sucanat, sucanet, xylitol, zylose and white sugar.

So you can see how it can be difficult to ascertain how much sugar and what types are in a product.

And you are probably thinking how the hell will you remember all those names for sugar?

It will get easier to remember and identify different types of sugar. Two of the main clues that an item is sugar are that it will have “tose” or “trose” at the end such as dextrose or fructose, or “rides” as in disaccharides. See if you can pick up any other patterns in the different names listed above.

Other sneaky ways to hide ingredients are through using their numbers, not their names.

There are way too many to go into here, but a full list can be downloaded from the Food Safety Standards site here ( ).

This is why food labels can be overwhelming as there is so much to know.

But if you focus on 90% whole foods that don’t need labels you can give yourself time to start to learn more about nutrition labels, additives and preservatives along the way.

A good way to do it is if you look at a label and can’t tell what something is, look it up. Then you will start to learn things that are relevant to you, and if you do that frequently enough you will start to commit things to memory.

3. Don’t Look At The Front Of The Packet

Health washing, green washing etc is quite common and all types of claims that have very little weight can be displayed on the front of the packet.

A lot of the time products will claim to be sugar free, low in fat, high in fibre on the front, but when you actually take the time to look objectively at the nutrition panel those statements don’t add up.

The health star rating can also be misleading.

Take time to turn packaged items around and look at the panel, rather than going off the front of the packet.

Companies will always put the “best” information on the front to make products look good, and leave the nitty gritty to the back, where hopefully no one will look.

An item might say high in fibre, low in fat on the front but when you look at the ingredients the second ingredient might be sugar and the calories per 100g might be crazy high!

Always take the time to familiarise yourself with the ingredients and nutrition panels, and not just look at the front of the packet.

That's it for part 1, you can check out part 2 here -

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.... or post up in the Facebook Group

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