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How to Read Food Labels and Tips


Note: this post has been updated in January 2022.

Learn how to read food labels

Those of you who know me by now realize that I follow a whole food plant-based lifestyle. Most don’t know that I attended a 3-course certification program at eCornell on Plant-Based Nutrition and received a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition.

I have tried to understand food labels and spent too much time trying to learn to interpret how to read food labels. I have spent even more time trying to understand all the items on the label. The simple answer is we don’t need to waste all our time reading a food label.  Just follow the simple rules in this post and you will know more about label reading than most people.

If we are trying to live a whole food plant-strong lifestyle, our goal should be to try and eat as little as possible any packaged food. But given the reality of life, there is a time when we must eat packaged foods.  The trick is to try to eat only whole healthy foods and stay away from any of the processed packaged foods. If we are going to eat processed foods, we need to be able to read food labels.

Four easy points to remember on reading labels

  1. Try to eat food that is not labeled, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
  2. Don’t believe anything that you read on the food package label.
  3. Read the ingredients list – look for whole grain.
  4. Check the nutrition facts and look for
    1. Bad fats.
    2. Sodium.
    3. Sugars.

– via Reading Food Packages and Nutrition Labels: Four Tips for Savvy Shopping

Nutritional label reading

An interesting lesson presented during my course at eCornell was on "nutritional label reading" by a dietitian, nutritionist, and Chef Jeff Novick. Jeff makes label reading easy and takes out the guessing, mystery, and the deception that is hidden in the food labels.

See how good you are at reading labels!


Now look at the label and you can clearly see that the Pam cooking spray has Zero everything. But how can that be, when you look at the ingredients you see canola oil, which I believe is 100 percent fat but the label claims Fat-Free. Notice the serving size is one-third of a second spray.

I will provide the answer to this later in this post and you will be surprised and shocked as I was!

**Industry Trick**

The answer to the question about Pam!

If serving size is less than a ½ gram – you can round down to zero
Pam advertises no nothing – see the label (It’s pure fat!)
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray advertises no calories! (It’s pure fat!)
Mazola Naturally Fat-Free Olive Oil ¼g serving size (It’s pure fat!)

Jeff Novick's on food labeling

He is a great speaker, very entertaining and in this video, he discusses the games that are played by marketing and food labeling companies. To me, this was very disturbing that these games were played, and no thought is given to our health.  The bottom line, of course, is money and greed!

Simple rules for reading nutrition facts

Below are a set of simple rules for food label reading  developed by nutritionist and chef Jeff Novick, Registered Dietitian

Rule # 1 -- Never, ever believe anything on the front of any product. . . ever.
Rule # 2 -- Always read the Nutrition Facts and scan the ingredient list.
  • Fat content should be no more than 20% of the total calorie content.
  • Sodium content should never be more than the calories; look for a 1:1 ratio.
  • Three things to check for in the list of ingredients:
  1. Whole grains
  2. No bad fats
  3. Limited added sugars

That's it! Simple and effective. Take a few trips to the store to master these, and then you'll need about ten seconds to evaluate a package. Combine this with the simple idea that we should be eating good minimally processed plant-based foods -- raw foods -- and limiting the volume of "foods" found in cartons, cans, bottles, and packages -- and we are well on our way to a successful health quest. – via  Raw Some Creations

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About the Author

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I am whole food plant-based vegan living in Maitland, Florida. Suppose you love reading and engaging in conversations about health and fitness, mainly the plant-based lifestyle. You will love my blog called "Revolutionize your Health." The blog posts are all related to health conscience individuals, where I bring cutting-edge material important to all of us, especially for the plant-based community.

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