Cracking the Code

The grocery store aisles are packed with products flaunting their labels, each one beckoning you to choose it. But here’s the catch – those labels are not just informative, they’re persuasive. To truly comprehend what’s hiding behind the flashy packaging, you need to become a label-reading maestro. Let’s embark on a journey of understanding with five fundamental rules that will unravel the mysteries of food labels.

1. Quantifying the Essentials

First, let’s tackle the basics. Flip that product over and zone in on the amount of sugar, salt, and calories it boasts. How? Take a peek at the ingredients list, and you’ll notice a trend – ingredients are listed in order of weight. The initial ingredient takes the lead with the largest percentage, while the last one lingers as the smallest contender. Moreover, food labels detail the fat, carbohydrate, sugar, and calorie content per 100g. This information is your golden key to understanding the percentage. For example, if a product packs 20g of sugar per 100g, that equates to 20%.

2. Small or Large: Judging Fat, Sugar, and Salt

Now, let’s talk portions. Recognizing what constitutes a little or a lot in terms of fat, sugar, and salt is crucial. For sugar, 10g marks the ‘lot’ territory, while 2g falls under ‘a little.’ When it comes to salt, 1.25g is a ‘lot,’ and 0.25g qualifies as ‘a little.’ To dig deeper, look at sodium, where 0.5g means ‘a lot,’ and 0.1g is ‘a little.’ These distinctions are your trusty guide in making informed choices.

3. Unmasking Carbohydrates

The carbohydrate section unveils its secrets when purchasing starchy foods, like bread, rice, and pasta. The goal? Seek out whole grains, and shun any semblance of sugar, white, or refined foods. To go a step further, inspect the ingredient list, hunting for hidden starches like potato starch and corn starch. Why the caution? All these culprits bear a high glycemic load, converting into sugar in your body and unsettling your blood sugar levels.

4. The Perils of Trans Fats

Trans fats – the villains in our story – masquerade under the term “hydrogenated” on food labels. Their impact on health is far from heroic, making them a clear adversary to avoid. Keep a watchful eye for this term as it signals the presence of these unhealthy, damaged fats.

5. Steer Clear of Additives

The final chapter unravels the mysteries of additives. Scan for colorants, flavorings, preservatives, thickeners, and the like. These sneaky ingredients might be designated as safe by the EU, boasting an ‘E’ number. But here’s the twist – they can affect people differently. For instance, E155 may trigger asthma in some individuals. To shield yourself from these enigmatic additives, it’s advisable to reduce your intake of processed foods and embrace whole, organic alternatives.

In Conclusion

In the grand theater of grocery shopping, food labels play the role of both informer and persuader. Armed with these five fundamental rules, you can confidently decipher the hidden narratives within those labels. The next time you navigate the aisles, your cart will be brimming not just with products but with understanding, helping you make choices that empower your health.



1. Dessy, M. (2017) The Pantry principle: How to read the label and understand what’s really in your food. The Woodlands, TX: Versadia Press.

2. McGuire, M. & Beerman, K.A. (2013) Nutritional Science: From Fundamentals to Food. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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