Struggling to Understand a Food Label?

What the Heck did I Just Eat?

When it comes to nutrition, we absolutely promote the principle of choosing farm-based foods over factory-based products wherever possible.

Farm-based foods are “clean” foods that come directly from a living breathing organism, like a plant, animal, tree, fish etc. They are un-processed and unrefined and are abundant in high-quality minerals, vitamins and other micronutrients. Examples include meat, poultry, game, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

The more farm-based foods we eat, the better our bodies will perform, including our metabolism, immune system, heart health, brain function, digestive system and energy levels – to name but a few.

However, when it comes to choosing factory-based foods, we need to take a moment to learn what’s actually in the product, by reading the label.

The backstory about labels

There is a lot of information contained in a food label and it can be overwhelming and misleading if you don’t know what you are looking for. Misleading information is often printed on the front and backs of food packaging and manufacturer’s love to make bold and wild claims as well as adding complex terms in order to confuse and trick us into buying their products. So we need to know how to read these labels, so we can understand what to avoid and what to focus on.

So how do you read a food label?

To start with and perhaps most importantly, look at the sugar and carbohydrate content. Sugar isn’t always listed as sugar. Any word ending in “ose” is actually sugar. Examples include glucose, galactose, fructose, lactose, maltose and dextrose. At the end of the day. all carbs break down into glucose (sugar) and sugar is sugar, regardless of whether it’s table suagr, honey or rice malt syrup. It raises your blood sugar levels and gives you energy either immediately, or stores it up for later use. Too much carbs and sugar will lead to an increase in body fat – so everything in moderation.

Secondly, look at the first three ingredients. They are usually the worst items contained in the food product. If you see the words “refined grains”, sugar (or another word ending in “ose”), or hydrogenated oils (a dangerous type of transfat), stay clear of these badboys. These items are of little value to you and will cause more harm to your body and performance, than good.

Thirdly, the longer the ingredients list, the more processed it is, which will ultimately lead to more consequences to your performance and health, than positive impacts.

Lastly, review the suggested serving sizes and make your own wise judgement as to whether the nutrient and calorie quantities, including sugar levels are actually reasonable and safe to consume. Serving sizes are often listed in 100 g/ml or smaller to make us believe that we will consume a lot less calories and sugar. Many people are unaware of this trick and believe they are only consuming a small amount when in fact, they’re getting a lot more than they hoped.

For example, on a standard bottle of tomato sauce the serving size is listed as 15ml, which is about a tablespoon. In 15ml there is 4g of actual sugar, which is about a teaspoon! Now if that’s not enough, oftentimes 1 tablespoon of sauce just isn’t going to cut it for most people.

Other bold claims to stay away from

In addition to the previous 4 points, look for and critically evaluate foods with this kind of rubbish:

  • No added sugar – Remember sugar is still sugar and lot’s of farm-based foods like fruit have high amounts of sugar, in particular those with the fibre removed.
  • Low-fat – Foods with reduced fat often have increased amounts of sugars.
  • Low-carb – Just because its low carb, it probably has a lot of other processed ingredients, so check the length of the list.
  • Only natural ingredients – This doens’t mean the product is 100% farm-based or natural. It simply indicates that at one point the manufacturer worked with a natural source like pears or nuts.
  • Light – These products are often highly processed to reduce either calories or fat, or are heavily watered down.
  • Gluten-free – This means the product doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye or barley. It will however contain sugars and perhaps transfats. Unless you are gluten intolerant or have celiac’s disease, you don’t need this.


Don’t let the wild and wonderful claims on the label fool you. The fact is, foods with labels are in most cases more “products” than actual foods, but if you need to eat processed foods, go for items that list more whole food ingredients, than numbers, additives and added sugars.

Need help with your Nutrition?

We offer one-to-one structured coaching support for clients who need to transform their lives, through improved nutrition habits. We will tackle your mindset, as well as teaching you simple and easy strategies that will help you make long-term sustainable changes so you can hit your goals.

Keen to learn more? Simply shoot us a message or jump on over to our Nutrition page by clicking here.

Need help with your Fitness?

Outdoor Grit is a high-quality and results-driven outdoor group fitness provider in Adelaide, specialising in functional health and fitness services for all. We are based in Prospect, at St. Helen’s Park, on 39 Prospect Road, Prospect.

We offer early and mid-morning sessions on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as well as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after work sessions.

If you’re keen to check out our group fitness sessions, click here to book in your first free session. We’ll then add a 1 week free trial pass so you can come to as many classes as possible.

We can’t wait to see you at one of our upcoming sessions.

Dan Jackiw – Co-Founder Outdoor Grit