6 things to know when reading food labels

Mom baking with young boy and girl.

When shopping for groceries, do you check food labels? Nutritionists advise us to read product labels to know the ingredients in the foods we buy. But most people don’t take the time, and the words on the label often don’t make sense.

Here are six things to know when reading food labels as featured in Reader’s Digest.

  1. Organic – Foods labeled organic must adhere to strict rules about the type of ingredients used. Organic farms are regularly inspected and must provide accurate records of their processing systems. Foods may be labeled:
    • 100% organic – All ingredients are organic.
    • Organic – The product contains 95-99% organic ingredients.
    • Made with organic ingredients – Produced with 74-94% organic ingredients.

    If It contains less than 74% organic ingredients, they may be listed by name.

    Meats: An organic seal indicates that the animal was fed only certified organic feed without animal by-products, hormones or antibiotics.

    Fruits and vegetables: Those labeled organic cannot be grown using genetically modified seeds (no genetically modified organisms or GMO), chemicals or irradiation.

  2. No cholesterol – Watch foods labeled as containing no cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat found only in animal products (fish, egg, dairy, meat). Plant-based products, such as cereal, salad dressing, bread, oil, and margarine, do not contain cholesterol, so they shouldn’t feature this label.
  3. Serving Size – Many products are promoted as low-calorie foods. However, if the number of servings in the package is high or the serving size isn’t clear, you could be in for a surprise. Often, people consume more calories than they realize because they didn’t check the label and do the math.
  4. Water – The number one ingredient in many prepared foods, such as soup, is water. When reading the food label, if water is the first ingredient, the products listed afterward are additives to enhance the flavor, taste, and texture.
  5. Natural – A product labeled natural, probably isn’t organic. Many shoppers think these terms are interchangeable, but they’re not. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not define what natural means. Food companies labeling products as natural do not have to adhere to the strict content requirements for organic products.
  6. Monosodium glutamate – It’s commonly known as MSG and used in prepared foods to enhance flavor. MSG is a synthetic umami used in Japanese and oriental dishes. It also occurs naturally in some foods, such as Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and mushrooms. Many people claim that MSG gives them headaches and other symptoms. If the label says, “No MSG,” it still could be listed under one of several other names, such as hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast, or sodium caseinate.

By 2020, the Food and Drug Administration will introduce new requirements for food labels. Learn more by reading this article.