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Reading food labels is a big part of healthy-eating. Before you put something into your body you should know what is is! However many companies attempt to take advantage of consumers and place labels on their products that may SOUND good in order to convince people to buy them.

The latest issue of Real Simple had a great article about decoding food labels and what you need to know to make the best choices when it comes to food.

After reading the article here are the important things to know: the good, the bad and the healthy.


lean vs extra lean food label

Lean: Contains less than 10g fat per 100g serving (as per the USDA).

Extra Lean: Contains less than 5g fat per 100g serving (The recommended daily allotment is 55g so that’s pretty good).

If you’re looking to cut back on fat always go with the EXTRA lean versus any other type of meat.


Low calorie vs. light food label

Low calorie: 40 calories or fewer per serving.

Light: No formal definition. Can refer to flavor or color with no change in calories.

While some foods might put “light” on their product they aren’t necessarily referring to calories. It could be flavor or even color! Consumers unknowingly may snatch up these products assuming they are making a healthy choice. This is where reading labels becomes important!


Made with real fruit vs whole fruit

“Real” fruit is not the same as “whole fruit.” This could refer to a fruit extract or juice, both of which contain fewer nutrients and more sugar.

Also the phrase “made with real fruit” this is not a regulated term so manufacturers can slap this label on anything as long as there is a miniscule trace of fruit in there.

The article recommends the following tip: Look at the ingredients list. If the fruit itself isn’t one of the top three ingredients, don’t be impressed.


Multi grain vs whole grain food label

These two are not synonymous. Multigrain just means a variety of grains were used, but not necessarily whole grains.

Whole grains are always the best choice. They contain good fiber and nutrients which otherwise end up getting lost during processing.


reduced low and no sugar added food labels

This one I found to be the most helpful. Z and I try to limit sugar when we can. This can be tricky because sugars are masters of disguise, hiding in foods under many different names (*anything ending with -ose = sugar).

Here’s the breakdown

Reduced sugar: 25% less than the original (which still could be a lot!).

Low sugar: Not regulated, could mean anything.

No sugar added: Nothing was introduced into the preparation/cooking (Could still be a high sugar food.)

Many foods have sugar, it’s just the way it is. The best strategy is to try and limit the amount of overly refined  processed sugar in favor of natural forms (fruit, honey, maple syrup, stevia).


Natural vs organic food label

Natural: Regulated by the USDA any food with this label contains no artificial ingredients, added color, and is only processed to preserve it/make it safe for consumption.

Organic: This label means that 95%+ of the ingredients are produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified ingredients. This does not mean healthy though so once again be careful.


009As you can see, not all terms are created equal. When it comes down do it, manufacturers want you to buy their product so they can make money. Unfortunately this can mean some amount of misleading on their part.

I encourage everyone to be an active consumer, read those labels, take responsibility for your health and make the best possible choices for you.