Reading Food Labels: Mistakes That Even Smart People Make

Reading Food Labels: Mistakes That Even Smart People Make

Did you know that most people, even very smart and highly educated people, are not very good at reading food labels?

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This is an actual can of Similac. We feed our babies this crap?! Yum, corn syrup solids and soy oil!

I know, I know. You’re the exception. You always read ingredient labels, and you know to avoid things like high-fructose corn syrup and MSG, right?

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Feeding babies this stuff makes Captain Picard cry.

Here’s what’s wrong with this picture: you’re still reading ingredient labels!

Wait, what? Here’s what I mean. Buy real food. Buy ingredients. Things like meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits. These are ingredients. They don’t have ingredient labels.

Healthy real food = faster fat loss, better recovery from your workouts, and in general, a sexier you.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. If you’re like me, you’re very busy, and it’s nice to have things like tomato paste without making it from scratch every time. So, what do you look for?

The trick to reading ingredient labels is mostly knowing what to AVOID. For sustained fat loss (and general health!), two of the most important things to avoid are:

  • Added sugars
  • Added fats

Sometimes food manufacturers use healthy-sounding or mysterious substitutes for sugars, so look out for these:

  • Organic agave nectar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Organic evaporated cane juice
  • Glucose syrup
  • Fructose
  • Apple juice, grape juice, etc. (yes, fruit juice = added sugar!)

Also, look out for these added fats, which are found in an incredibly wide range of processed food products:

  • Anything with the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” These are trans fats and are spectacularly good at disrupting your metabolism and making it difficult to lose fat.
  • Any oils made with soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, grapeseed, rice bran, or canola. They have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids that can trigger inflammation. Chronic Inflammation makes it harder to lose fat, and it also happens to contribute to things like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Okay, now that I’ve told you what to avoid, what should you be looking for? I like the guidelines that Michael Pollan laid out in a landmark essay in the New York Times Magazine. One suggestion is:

Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup. None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

So let’s put this to the test. Here’s a box of Multi-Grain Cheerios:


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Woohoo potassium triphosphate! And corn starch!

FAIL: what in the world is Tripotassium Phosphate? I bet you can’t tell me off the top of your head! And rice bran oil is one of the high-omega-6 oils. Bonus: whole grains aren’t actually good for you anyway….

And here’s a tub of salsa, available from our local Whole Foods:


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Just real foods!

WIN: it has more than five ingredients, but they’re all real food ingredients, and everything is recognizable and pronounceable.


So there you go. Eat real foods, avoid added sugars and fats, and you’ll be well on your way to getting The Body You Want. Oh, and avoiding cancer.


Jae Chung is a fitness coach at The Body You Want Fitness Solutions in Washington, DC. To find out more about how to get The Body You Want, check out our website and give us a call at 202-316-1457!

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