How to really read a food label

Sometimes the labels on foods can seem like another language, and to those who don’t know how to read them, they might as well be. Katie Nichols led a lecture this past Thursday explaining how to understand what a food label really means.

Nichols began at the beginning of the label, highlighting one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of a label, the serving size. Many people skip this and just look at the calories, sugars or protein and do not even see that they may actually be getting four times what they bargained for. At the top of each food label the serving size is listed followed by the number of servings in the package. This means that the “amounts per serving” for the entire package are actually multiplied by the number of servings in each package.

This tricky serving size business is just a part of the marketing that food companies do so well. Nichols helped reveal some of “the lies” that food corporations promote or skew so often. Some of the most common “lies” include sugar in disguise and zero trans-fat. Sugars can go by hundreds of different names, and on food ingredient list food companies will use these different names to hide the fact that there are large quantities of sugars in the product. A good rule to go by for avoiding sugars and other questionable chemicals is if one of the ingredients can’t be pronounced or there are more than ten ingredients in the food (depending on the food), it shouldn’t be eaten. Nichols discussed a few other eyebrow raising fallacies, the last one being “zero trans-fat”. This sounds great– if it has no trans-fat, then the food has to be healthy. This is totally false, trans- fat is very unhealthy and many states have even outlawed it, but foods can still be chock-full of other bad things. Many foods that say this often have to compensate with extra saturated fat, sugar or sodium to make the food still taste good.

Nichols touched over many other helpful deciphering tools for food labels and will be hosting grocery tours in the near future. She promotes “eating close to the ground,” as in simple, non-processed, grown or healthily raised foods. Her guide gives a list of “the Dirty Dozen”– foods that are best bought organic, and “the Clean Fifteen”– foods that are fine bought non-organic.
For more information about nutrition, food labels and other health tips, students can visit Katie Nichol’s’ blog at or stop by the Mines Student Recreation Center Thursdays from 3:00-5:00pm to ask or talk to Nichols about health and nutrition.

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