How to Read Food Labels for Healthy Eating

Kaelin Tuell Poulin, LadyBoss Co-Founder, Weight Loss Expert, Best Selling Author

Kaelin Tuell Poulin is an award-winning fitness professional, best selling author, and weight loss expert who personally lost 65 pounds in 7 months. The founder of The LadyBoss Movement, her LadyBoss Formula has helped tens of thousands of women lose weight and keep it off forever.

Learning how to read food labels should not feel like you need a bachelor’s degree in science.  And yet, reading food labels can be downright confusing for most of us.  How many times have you gone to read food labels, and between the percent signs, the confusing serving sizes, and all the ingredients, you just gave up?  

Well, we decided to take the matter into our own hands and figure out how to read food labels without being tricked or confused.  We will share our tips on how to read food labels for healthy eating, how to read a food label to avoid hidden sugars, and how to understand nutrition facts in regards to serving sizes.

So, let’s get down to learning how to read food labels; no science degree is required.  

How To Read Food Labels Tip #1: Be Aware of Serving Size 

When it comes to learning how to read food labels, we feel it is essential to cover the trickiness of serving size first.  

Did you know that calorie amounts and nutrient information is typically for just one serving?  What’s so tricky about that?  Well, that serving size is usually a lot smaller than what typically people eat in one sitting.  

Let’s look at one of our favorite cheat-day snacks as an example: Oreo cookies.  The serving size of Oreo cookies is 140 calories per two cookies. And when is the last time anyone ate just two Oreos?  Most of us consider it self-control when we don’t eat two entire rows, let alone only two cookies!

So start with the servicing size and be aware of your portions, because while you might see 100 calories per serving, after two or three bites, you might end up consuming 1,000 calories of something because the serving size was smaller than you realized. 

How To Read Food Labels Tip #2: Be Aware of The Marketing Department

Many foods put specific claims on the front of their packaging, like “whole grain” or “gluten-free.”  That’s called marketing, and you shouldn’t always believe it to also mean “healthy” or “good for you.”

For example, the front of a Lucky Charms cereal box has a banner across the top, declaring that whole grains are always the first ingredient.  While that is great, the serving size of Lucky Charms is ¼ cup.  That ¼ cup serving of whole-grain also includes 10g of sugar per serving.  And when is the last time you ever ate just ¼ cup of cereal?  More like 2 cups.  That’s a lot of sugar, making the fact that whole grain is the first ingredient somewhat obsolete.  

You should also be aware of other famous claims on the front of food packages when you read food labels.  For example, the claim of “low-fat” typically means that the fat is reduced, but the sugar content has been increased.  The same can be true for “gluten-free” claims.  Gluten-free foods simply mean there are no wheat products, but they can still be loaded with processed ingredients and include added fats and sugars.  

So when you’re learning to read food labels and make more informed decisions, be aware of marketing tactics on the packaging.  All the information you need to know is on the back to get the real facts. 

How To Read Food Labels Tip #3: A Sugar By Any Other Name Is Still Sugar 

When you are learning how to read food labels, you should also understand the various ways in which sugar shows up.  The food industry uses the multiple forms of sugar to their advantage, sneaking it where they can for added flavor without having to call it “sugar.”  But no matter what you call it, sugar is still sugar, and it will have the same spiking effect on your insulin levels and will always add on extra pounds when consumed in excess. 

So, let’s look at the most common alternative names for sugar, so you know what you’re looking for when you read food labels. 

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup 
  • Corn sweetener
  • Cane juice 
  • Brown rice syrup 
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Barley Malt
  • Fruit juice concentrate

This list is by no means a full list of alternative sugar names to look out for when reading food labels, but it is an excellent place to start.  

The bottom line is that sugar can show up any and everywhere without you realizing it.  Being aware of all the names of sugar can help you steer clear of any added sugars.

Knowing How To Read Food Labels and What To Look For

These three tips on how to read food labels are just the beginning. But learning how to read food labels, so hidden sugars and marketing tactics do not trick you, and learning how to understand nutrition in regard to serving sizes are excellent starting points.  The more informed you are, the more empowered you are.  So lady, consider yourself empowered to properly read food labels and make the choices right for you! 

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