How Food Labels Can Sabotage Your Health


We all come into contact with packaged food at the grocery store. And that means reading labels. For a while there I was comparing calories, serving sizes, and grams of fat, carbs, protein, as well as milligrams of salt…it was time consuming and not a lot of fun.

Fortunately, it can be quite a bit easier than that. Knowing how to read food labels will save you a lot of time and keep you from eating something you think is healthy but really isn’t. Because if you’re trying to eat healthy, you deserve the credit with your body!

1. Ignore All Front Label Claims.

The good news about packaging and labels is that you can ignore most of the information. This is especially true for anything the package claims on the front. These claims are ONLY designed to sell products by convincing you they are healthy, whether they are or not. Below is a “Heart Healthy” item despite the fact that it contain trans fats, aka partially hydrogenated oil, which are extremely bad for your heart, according to the Mayo Clinic.

B Quaker TransFat

B Quaker Nutrition Facts

B Quaker Ingredients

And if you haven’t figured it out yet, “low fat,” “reduced fat,” or “fat free” simply means “laden with sugar and chemicals.”

Compare Mayo Lowfat1

Compare Mayo Lowfat2

So, let’s ignore these supposed health claims and skip straight to what matters: the back or side panel containing the Nutrition Facts and the Ingredients List.


2. Ignore the Nutrition Facts.

I often point out discrepancies in the Nutrition Facts to make a point, but you honestly can ignore these altogether. At least don’t look at them first; can be almost as misleading as front labels. For example, a product can claim zero grams of trans fat on the Nutrition Facts even if it has .5 grams per serving. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up, especially since most people don’t stick to the serving size.

The Nutrition Facts can also be useful in exposing how deceptive front labels can be. For example, the two ice creams below contain the exact same number of calories per serving, but the blue one at the bottom is the “no sugar added” kind—which would make me assume it would have less calories. Why else would you buy it? I don’t know about you, but I’d be mad if I’d been buying “no sugar added” ice cream, which tastes horrible, in order to lose weight, only to find out I’m consuming not only calories but nasty fake-sugar chemicals as well. And as we’ll see below, eating sugar-free products doesn’t mean you’re doing any favors for your diabetes.

How Food Labels Can Sabotage Your Health

Edy’s Regular Vanilla Ice Cream: 1/2 cup serving size, 100 calories

How Food Labels Can Sabotage Your Health

Edy’s No Sugar Added Vanilla Ice Cream: 1/2 cup serving size, 100 calories

3. Look at the Ingredients List.

When you do this, you’re looking for a few key things:

  • Are there more than five or six ingredients? If so, there’s something in there that’s bad for you.
  • Are there ingredients you can’t pronounce? If so, there’s something in there that’s bad for you.
  • Are there ingredients you can’t identify? If so, there’s something in there that’s bad for you.

This does knock your options way down, but if you’re serious about avoiding preservatives, additives, and nasty chemicals, it’s the way to go. However, sometimes we have to compromise. If the many-ingredient item is something you still want to buy, there are four key ingredients you should avoid at all costs. These are big-time health offenders, and it’s almost always possible to find a better option that doesn’t contain them.


Top 4 Ingredients to Avoid

1. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Light Syrup

Despite the Corn Growers Association’s protests, Princeton researchers have found that HFCS does indeed contribute to obesity and make you gain weight faster than regular sugar. That weight is also mostly concentrated in the abdominal region, which is more unhealthy. It’s also linked to diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Because of how it’s been processed, HFCS deactivates the body’s mechanism that kicks in to say, “I’ve had enough sugar.” The body can’t regulate the feeling of satiation, and due to the very addictive nature of sugar and many of the products containing HFCS, this causes you to also eat (or drink) more.

HFCS is commonly found in sodas, dressings and marinades, ketchup, and processed desserts, but it sneaks into everything from the sauce in frozen vegetable packages (supposedly healthy) to chocolate milk to sweet relish to breakfast products.


2. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

B Jimmy Dean1

Monosodium glutamate is a class of neurotoxin called an excitotoxin. This is a chemical that causes brain cells to become overexcited and fire uncontrollably, leading to cell death. MSG has been linked to seizures, migraines, chest pains and heart palpitations and other scary problems, including digestive issues. This is seriously nasty stuff. It messes with your brain. Don’t eat it.

Although everyone thinks of soy sauce and Chinese food when they think of MSG, I’ve found it in creamy salad dressing, packaged cheese dip, lunchmeat, bouillon, and sausage. One of the challenges of avoiding MSG is that similar forms of it go by many names. Look for these terms that usually indicate the presence of MSG:

  • ›“hydrolyzed,” as in “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”
  • “protein,” as in “soy protein isolate”
  • “yeast,” as in “autolyzed yeast” or “yeast extract”


3. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Equal-Measure)

Yoplait Light

Like MSG, aspartame is a neurotoxin. It is linked to many of the same symptoms, including but not limited to headaches, seizures, tachycardia, depression, fatigue, vertigo, insomnia, memory loss, vision problems…the list is virtually endless. But that’s not surprising given that, once again, this stuff messes with your brain. It’s even been linked to leukemia and other cancers in recent research. And not only that, but despite its reputation as a “diet” aid, it has now been linked to obesity by stimulating appetite, increasing carbohydrate cravings, and stimulating fat storage and weight gain.

Aspartame is easy to find on an ingredient label, and a dead giveaway is the “sugar-free” claim on the front of the package. Many flavored yogurts contain aspartame, particularly Yoplait, as well as sugar-free ice cream and desserts and diet drinks.


4. Trans Fats (Partially Hydrogenated Oil)

Olive Oil ButterDespite the fact that the medical community and food industry has admitted that trans fats are incredibly bad for you, they continue to show up in everything from baked goods to pancake mix to flavored coffee creamer, margarine and butter substitutes (even those made with olive oil) and even kids’ breakfast cereal (can we say Cocoa Pebbles?).

›Vegetable oils, supposedly healthy but in reality highly processed, are processed even further during the hydrogenation process to increase their shelf life, making them trans fats. Despite their lack of odor and taste, these oils become rancid at the high heats used to process them, which is one of the reasons why trans fats cause a greater increase in cholesterol and artery plaque and hardening than other types of fats. This is because they increase inflammation in the body; cholesterol is a protective measure against inflammation that can get out of control.


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