Don’t Forget to Read the Food Packaging Ingredients!

food_packaging_bannerWhile many of you may be conscious of reading the nutrition facts panel on food packages, the ingredient list needs some much needed attention as well. Today, food companies often mislead the consumer with marketing claims that leave one to think they are purchasing a quality, healthy product. However, reading the ingredients of your food product can tell you a lot more than you think. The ingredients are always listed in descending order of predominance by weight, meaning that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. This makes it easy to access whether a product fits into a nutritious, “real food” diet.

Here are a few key guidelines to follow when assessing a label:

  1. No added sugar in the first 5 ingredients!
    There are two kinds of sugar, naturally-occurring and added. Naturally-occurring sugars are found in many foods. For example, dairy products, such as yogurt and milk, and fruit (both healthy choices) contain naturally-occurring sugars. Lactose is the sugar in milk and yogurt; fructose is the sugar in fruit. To determine if a food product has added sugar, look for these words: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, lactose, maltose, sucrose, syrup and table or raw sugar.
  2. No trans fat!
    Manufacturers are allowed to claim zero grams of trans fat on the nutrition facts panel if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. If there is an ingredient called “partially hydrogenated…,” that is a sign that man-made trans fats are hidden in the box.
  3. Whole grains only!
    This is one of the most confusing concepts for consumers, thanks in large part to clever front-of-package marketing. Companies are suddenly using the word “wheat” whenever possible, but it is important to make clear that most bread, cereal, or cracker products are made with wheat. The question is whether it is WHOLE wheat. If the word “whole” is not in the name of the ingredient, it is a refined grain. Additionally, look at how much fiber the food product has. The general rule of thumb is that you want cereals, breads and energy bars with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  4. No artificial colors!
    Artificial colors have been linked to a myriad of health conditions, from ADHD to cancer. They are heavily-processed and not very nutrient-dense, providing absolutely zero health benefit. They only exist to attract people to eat more of a product.
  5. If you don’t understand the ingredients on the box, don’t buy it!
    Unfamiliar ingredients are often chemicals or additives that are not worth your money. An extremely long list of ingredients often signifies that a food is highly processed.

-Erica Varner, RD, LDN, CPT
Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer
FFC East Lakeview
Click here to contact Erica.

FFC is currently hiring Registered Dietitians. Previous athletic club, health club, fitness center, personal training studio, or gym experience is not required. For more information, contact Scott Lewandowski at