Depending on the
product, some labels can feel a little overwhelming. And many of us
don’t have the luxury of time to spend at the grocery store, reading
every detail on each product before tossing it into our
carts. But if you know what you’re looking for, it feels much less like a
hassle and more like a habit. Plus, once there is a reason to avoid a
certain additive, you may find yourself unable to not look at every
While many companies
still withhold certain product details from food labels, there are still
a few things they must legally share. All you need to know are a few
ins-and-outs and you will find confident control
over the foods your family consumes.
Be leery of the pretty
A product’s principal
display panel (the front panel) is the side that jumps out to you, as
you walk down the aisle. Whispering to you (and especially your kids),
"Look at me, buy me!" However, be suspicious
of those happy cartoon characters and "All Natural" headlines and dig
deeper to know what’s beyond them.
The other sneaky panel
The product will also
have a panel that looks inviting, easy to read and, at the same time,
"smart." This is another marketing ploy to prevent you from getting the
real information. Don’t let the "no preservatives"
and bullet points stop you from finding the dirt!
Where’s the REAL information?
The dirty details can
be found on the primary information panel, which is just to the right of
the principal display panel. This panel will provide the nutritional
facts, ingredients, name and contact info of
the manufacturer and/or distributor, and the certified organic info.
However, the info can
sometimes be oddly placed on packaging. A great example are meal
replacement bars that often shrink their nutritional details and squeeze
it in between the wrapper fold on the back. Another
problem can be when an individual item has been separated from its
original packaging, where the nutritional info exists. Don’t be afraid
to ask a store associate (if it’s a health food store, they are used to
it) if they can provide the info.
Start at the top (or beginning)
Serving size and
servings per container are the first thing you read and the size is what
determines the calculations of the nutritional content. So, if the
calories are 200 for a serving size of a ½ cup and
you eat 1 cup, then you consumed 400 calories. Servings per container
math tricks are common to make a food or beverage seem lower in calories
or fat, at first glance. Don’t be fooled. Do the math!
LESS (or zero) of this:
Saturated fat, Trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugars
Fiber and vitamins and minerals
5% and below is low. 20% and above is high
In theory, you will
find every ingredient used in the product here, listed in order of the
largest to the smallest amount. While some products will be transparent
with additives like dyes, artificial flavors,
fillers, or high fructose corn syrup, some companies re-name ingredients
to hide it or downplay the amount used. For instance, HFCS-90 means 90%
High Fructose Corn Syrup. Renaming ingredients is another common math
trick that makes the undesirable ingredient
appear multiple times, lower in the list, instead of once, at the top of
Click the photo below to download the Power Kids Activity Sheet Vol. 1