Decoding Food Labels

I was recently watching The Today Show and they featured a segment on how to decode food labels. Not the nutritional facts on the back of the product, but the larger front of food labels that can be incredibly confusing and misleading.  I consider myself a savvy shopper yet I was pretty much blown away on how sneaky advertisers can be with their wording.  How does one tell the difference in seemingly lookalike food labels?

Shop Smart magazine comes to the rescue of our food aisle woes.

Low VS Reduced

Low is the winner of this battle. There are specific parameters if a product is labeled low.  No more than 140mg of sodium per serving.  Which is world’s better than the vagueness of Reduced, which only has to be less sodium than the original product. For example the reduced sodium in a particular chicken broth still clocked a hefty 560mg of sodium.

Light VS Low fat

Which is better?  Any guesses?  Low fat is our winner because again there is a specific definition of what low fat is.  Low fat means 3grams fat or less per serving.  Light only means less than the original.

Multi-grain VS Whole grain

Multiple grains are not necessarily bad for you but they can still be processed.  Whole grains are always the better choice.

Hydrogenated VS Partially-Hydrogenated Oils

No winner here!  Stay away from both.  Neither oil is heart healthy.

No Added Sugar

That only means sugar was not added in the processing.  It doesn’t mean that sugar isn’t in the product.  So make sure and look at the Nutritional label on the back!



How in the world do you pick out your eggs?  I love having choices, but when did the egg section get so complicated at the grocery store? Below is the scoop to help you:

  • Organic: Organic eggs can only come from chickens that have access to the outdoors, aren’t raised in cages and eat certified organic feed.
  • Free-range: Means that the birds get to spend part of their time outside, however, the USDA does not have a legal definition of what this means for eggs.  So you will never know if the birds spend 10minutes a month or 10hours a day outside. There are not restrictions to what chickens can be fed.
  • Cage-free: The birds are un-caged but are generally indoors. They lack the ability to supplement their diet with natural foods(like worms and bugs).  The nutritional value is usually the same as conventional grocery store eggs.
  • Omega-3 fortified: Eggs naturally contain omega-3 fatty acids.  If they claim that the eggs have been fortified, that usually means that the chickens were feed a diet that included fish oils, canola oil, or flax oil.
  • Pastured Eggs:  If you can find these eggies, these are the ones you should get.  No antibiotics or hormones added.  The chickens are able to range freely and live the happy farm life you imagine.  Compared to conventionally raised eggs, Pastured eggs have 1/3 less cholesterol, 7 times more beta carotene, 3 times more vitamin E and ¼ less saturated fat.

Between my EWG fruit and veggie list and now with my label reading lesson, I feel even more empowered when I’m at the grocery store.   To be completely honest, I was taken aback at how tricky label reading can be.  I definitely did not get a perfect score on picking which label was the healthier choice.  The best takeaway is to always make sure you always read the nutritional label on the back.

Actress, model, active humanitarian, & Mom! Author of 'Everyday Chic'.