January 29, 2014
Food Labels: Decoding 101

Making smarter choices with food is an excellent goal for optimizing health, but how do you know if you're making a good choice if you don't understand the data (the labels) you're reading? Know this, and you can determine if a food is worth your time (and calories!)

To achieve this, I find it easiest to break foods into different categories. We then can use a few simple guidelines within each category to ensure we're off to a balanced start...


Category 1: Grains

- Per 15-20g. carb, minimum 3 g fiber & maximum 3g sugar

- Look for: "whole" ingredients

- Avoid: "enriched" ingredients


Category 2: Meats

- Per 7g protein, maximum 3g total fat and maximum 140 mg sodium


Category 3: Vegetarian Proteins

- Per 7g protein, maximum 55 calories

- Higher protein rather than carbohydrate


Category 4: Dressings, Sauces & Marinades

- Per serving (varies by type & brand), max 400 mg sodium, 5g sugar + 5g total fat

- Avoid: sweeteners (e.g. sucralose, acesulfame potassium, sorbitol, high fructose corn syrup)


Category 5: Dairy & Dairy Substitutes

- Look for: low-fat, fat-free, 2%, 1% or 0%

- Avoid: sweeteners (e.g. sucralose, acesulfame potassium, sorbitol, high fructose corn syrup)

- For yogurts, look for natural sweetners (e.g. fruit puree, fruit juice) if flavored and live cultures

- For flavored milks, look for natural flavors (e.g. unsweetened vanilla almond milk) and Calcium & Vitamin D

- For cheeses: look for higher protein than fat


Other helpful hints with label reading can be found in these blogs as well:





Start with decoding labels, and finding healthy foods that meet these guidelines to improve your dietary plan. You may just impress your friends and family with your grocery-store-detective skills! Happy reading!

Written by Erika Brown

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