Label Reading Intensive – Refining your label reading skills

Labels. Living in the city we are bombarded with labels of all kinds, all day – especially food labels. A good marketer will know what the points of consumer susceptibility are, and play to those. I read the following article and it made me sad to think of all the busy people out there seeking comfort in labels and being duped by sneaky buggers!

People find comfort amidst confusion, in words and labels that they equate with safety. Kosher, Gluten Free, Organic, Fat free / Sugar Free  – my personal favourites, which I believe can be directly translated to ‘food additive body bomb’! Sadly, what we’re ‘rewarded’ with is often some of the most processed packet food going!

Read the ingredients – this is where you find out whether it’s trolley worthy, not by reading the label! The trouble is, if you shop online only, you don’t often get the ingredient list, so you’re better off at least occasionally shopping in person to keep tabs on whether something is worthy of your munching!

Real food is real food. No numbers. No highly processed, denatured ingredients that most of the time we cannot pronounce – our bodies don’t recognise that stuff and it’s showing in all of our health issues. We are so much more powerful than we think to put an end to fake food production and processes – we all just stop buying it.

Many health professionals and weightloss companies and products, have focused on the nutritional panel for years and many consumers have been trained to trust and never look past the catchphrases on the front of a product. These paint far from the whole picture. I’d prefer to eat a little of something high in fat if it’s a healthy fat, than I would a low fat product with 10 additives I didn’t recognise. Look at the ingredient list, and if you don’t know what something is, your body won’t either. It’s that simple. This goes equally for numbers as for words. Yes, you may be able to read ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ or ‘hydrolyzed wheat protein’ but do you really know what that means? They’re actually code for trans fat & msg. Don’t be disheartened. You will learn this stuff over time. It’s taken me 3 years of geek-out research and reading to wrap my head around it all, so give yourself a break and choose a little something to focus on each week instead of feeling like everything you’ve done in the past is wrong and you’re doomed – you’re not! Today is a new day.

It’s time to really start to notice the smell of ‘spin’, like these ‘selling points’ commonly seen on packets:

  • baked not fried – if I had a dollar…
  • sugar free – doesn’t mean they’re not using horrible chemical sweeteners, added fructose or corn syrup
  • fat free – another code for ‘full of artificial crap your body doesn’t understand.’
  • no saturated fat (good quality saturated fats like coconut, pasture / grass fed meat & bacon, and organic free range eggs are really good for us as part of a nutritious diet, and polyunsaturated high heat processed seed oils are really bad for us – so, whilst the latter aren’t “saturated”, I’d pick a good quality saturated fat over a highly processed unsaturated any day!
  • cholesterol free – erm, margarine is cholesterol free but it is far, far from being a real food our bodies recognise.
  • organic – sometimes, organic packet products can have a bunch of unhealthy stuff in them too – definitely (typically) more dependable but just because the corn syrup is organic, don’t make it healthy!
  • made with real fruit – hilarious! love that one. a real ‘clutching at straws’ claim. see below!
  • natural flavorings (msg can be classified as a natural flavouring. Annoying! )
  • no artificial flavours or colours (I saw a product today that had that on the front, and then about 8 additives and 2 hidden msg ingredients ‘yeast extract and hydrolised wheat protein). No thanks!

Do not be fooled. Those catchphrases or allergy safe ‘stars’ or ‘ticks’ or anything else on the FRONT of the packet, do not mean you can trust the product and skip reading the ingredients. Exhibit A is a product that had a big “No artificial ingredients or preservatives” on the front. It doesn’t matter what the brand is. It’s this sort of thing that is still catching well-meaning people thinking they’re making a better choice. The best choice you can make is to make a batch of biscuits at home per week and not buy them. For biscuits to have a years’ shelf life and be transported around the globe, it’s impossible to make them with a whole food approach.

The brand spiel also told a romantic story of “70 years of baking tradition” – half of these ingredients didn’t exist 70 years ago. Stop buying the BS. The romance is in your kitchen or at your farmer’s market stall. It isn’t in commercial baking.


photo (49)

  • This is 37% sugar
  • It almost certainly contains genetically modified soy bean ingredients (always a giveaway when they don’t state “GM FREE” on their label and the product is made from local and imported ingredients)
  • It contains refined wheat and brown sugar (which is just white sugar with molasses added back in. Go figure)
  • It contains ‘vegetable fat’ twice, once mentioning palm oil and the second time – whether they’re covering up for using palm oil or inflammatory sunflower / canola oils high in omega 6, either way we’re destroying forests or destroying our health.
  • It contains ‘natural flavour’ which can mean MSG, beaver bottoms (I kid you not) or beetles treated in ammonia. Talk about abusing the term ‘natural’, right?
  • 120 – ‘natural’ but cocchineal can cause anaphylaxis, asthma or dermatitis in some people, according the Chemical Maze (app)

Thank goodness the sugar is raw though, right? ;-)

And here are some more examples of labels of seemingly innocent products (and a couple not so innocent in there too!), that turn out to be big, bad news indeed.

potato stix

potato stix 2

Analysis: Ooh yay – Dairy free, NO preservatives, NO artificial Flavours / colours and NO added MSG.

  • First thing to note is no ‘added’ MSG – as in, on top of what’s already in there. It’s about a clear a claim as ‘all natural’ is.
  • A whole bunch of refined, puffed, hybridised grains
  • Vegetable Oil – what kind? It’s usually either GMO origin cottonseed or canola OR just as bad but different, unsustainable palm oil. Neither option rocks our rockstar world, so we’re moving on.
  • Potato seasoning? Code name sugar (maltodextrin) and salt = bliss point. Makes us want MORE MORE MORE. Plus, the maltodextrin is from GMO corn, most definitely.
  • Yeast Extract – Code name? You guys know this one now… MSG!?!?! Yes indeed.
  • Natural flavour – could be that beaver butt back to haunt us
  • Sugar – always good to add a little more to a sugary, starchy, salty snack don’t you think? NOT.

Next… Oh yay – energy for the whole morning, right? Awesome.

BeVita 2


  • Majority ingredient hybridised and refined wheat – remember wheat might not so much be the problem, as the frequency with which we eat it now, paired with how refined and fiddled with it is these days compared to 100 years ago.
  • Sugar – Get it in there and get them hooked
  • Vegetable Oil – Oh look, another vague “is it Palm?” or “Is it GMO cottonseed / canola?” Whichever they’re hiding, we aren’t interested.
  • Then, a whole bunch of random, non nutritive additives at the end that are purely there for shelf life and texture stability.
  • Soy Lecithin – most often genetically modified soy
  • Flavours – What kind? Natural? Synthetic? Where from? And WHY in what’s reported to be a simple breakfast cracker to “last us all morning”?

This is going to be more like “Guaranteed leaving you needing something from our snack range within 2 hours of breakfast. Because we’re worth it (the share price at least, we mean).


Next… oh sweetie, you’re sick. Here – let me make you some jelly! Did your beautiful mum do this for you? Mine sure did. Not their faults at all – they didn’t have the amazing access to knowledge that we do today. They were in the ‘dark ages’ of food awareness.

Lime jelly


  • Sugar – The number one ingredient for inflammation and disease, NOT for curing infections when young people are sick.
  • Gelatine – I’m betting the cows weren’t guaranteed comfortable during their lives.
  • Flavour – What kind? Where from? How is it made?
  • Colours – E102 is tartrazine which is derived from petroleum and can spur aggressive behavior, asthma, behavioral problems, depression, hayfever, headaches, migraine, skin ailments (eczema, dermatitis, itching, hives, rash etc) – and what was that food that children are fed in hospital again? I see this sort of thing as child abuse, I truly do! Worst part is the poor abuser doesn’t realise and thinks they’re doing a lovely thing!


Special K Nourish

The big companies are starting to sneak in other meaningful words, now that ‘All Natural’ isn’t cutting it for them anymore. So Kellogg’s has borrowed “Nourish”. Yes, that’s right, the company that spent $220K to get people to vote NO on genetically modified ingredient labelling, proports to have a cereal that ‘nourishes’. Let’s take a look!

  • The first 8 ingredients are varying types of processed, flaked, puffed, refined grains.
  • Apricot pieces, concentrated apricot puree, conentrated apple puree, invert sugar, sugar, sweetened cranberries, sugar, sugar, brown rice syrup, barley malt extract – ALL SUGAR!!!!
  • Vegetable Oils – Inflammatory
  • Natural Flavour – gosh these beaver butts are popular
  • A few synthetic trace vitamins and minerals at the end.

And forgive me for asking: The “Nourish” part is where exactly?

Ah, finally something independently tested to meet the ‘strict’ nutrition standards of the Heart Foundation – Phew! Looking forward to something more nourishing given it’s good for the heart this one, right ?

Arnotts Snack Right biscuits

Arnotts Snack right biscuits 2

  • 56% sultanas – pure sugar
  • Citrus with E202, 220 preservatives
  • Sugar – because the sultanas didn’t provide quite enough!
  • Rice Flour – refined, vaccuous
  • Golden syrup – a few different types of sugar in there just to be safe, yes, good idea!
  • Vegetable Fibre – believe it or not, this can be a disguise for wood pulp. It’s not definitely that in this case, it could also be inulin – a well known gut irritant. Oh, that’s better.
  • Sunflower oil – Vegetable oil = what? Inflammation!
  • E322 – Lecithin. Most often GMO soy derived.
  • E500 and 341 – Basically bicarb and baking powders
  • Condensed milk – oh, sorry. Let’s make that 4 different types of sugar. Much better idea.

How something like this gets any sort of tick other than a tick for ‘delete and discontinue’ is beyond me!

So if you’ve realised you’ve been falling for this sort of stuff up until now, please do not panic. I used to buy a very strange chocolate snack pack dessert simply because it said ‘fat free’ – everyone has stuff they’re not proud of and hopefully with these few examples you’ve been able to pick up some tips as to what to look out for – don’t forget your chemical maze app!

The key is to ditch the guilt and get excited for what you’re going to change tomorrow! Which, after a while, means co-ops, organic markets, butchers and vege box deliveries because it’s so, so much easier than spending hours trawling through labels at the supermarket!

Bye bye weirdo packets of weirdness trying to romance us with white lies.


These weirdo additions, unsustainable ingredients and refined festivals of processed grains are not welcome in our real food world and we’re smarter than a few catchphrases, aren’t we? Feel free to share any revelations or experiences you’ve had with this and please remember – there is always someone on day 1 of their real food journey. Welcome them. Don’t make them feel silly.

More articles of mine that I’ve written over the years?

The Inconvenient truth about convenience foods

They don’t got your back

Fat Free Sugar free jelly – The most toxic thing in the supermarket?

Real Treats. Happy Bodies. Happy Planet

Alexx x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *