Understanding Food Labels

Understanding Food Labels: How to Spot Hidden Sugars and Processed Ingredients

Understanding Food Labels

Understanding Food Labels

Navigating food labels can be a daunting task, especially when trying to avoid hidden sugars and processed ingredients. In this article, we will break down the basics of food labels, discuss how to spot hidden sugars and processed ingredients and provide tips for making healthier choices at the grocery store.

Understanding Food Labels: The Basics of Food Labels

Before diving into hidden sugars and processed ingredients, it’s essential to understand the basics of food labels. Food labels contain valuable information about the nutritional content of a product, including:

  • Serving size: This is the recommended portion size for the product. All nutritional information listed on the label is based on this serving size.
  • Calories: This indicates the number of calories in one serving of the product.
  • Macronutrients: These include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which are the main sources of energy for our bodies.
  • Micronutrients: These are vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C or iron, which are essential for overall health and wellness.
  • Ingredients list: This provides a list of all the ingredients in the product, ordered by weight from highest to lowest.

Understanding Food Labels: Spotting Hidden Sugars

Hidden sugars can lurk in many products, even those that may not taste sweet. Consuming too much added sugar has been linked to various health issues, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Here’s how to spot hidden sugars on food labels:

  1. Check the ingredients list: Look for names that indicate added sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, or evaporated cane juice. There are more than 50 different names for sugar, so keep an eye out for any unfamiliar terms.
  2. Review the nutrition facts: Check the “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars” sections on the nutrition facts label. While some naturally occurring sugars are present in fruits and dairy products, added sugars should be limited.
  3. Be mindful of serving sizes: Many products contain multiple servings per package, which means the sugar content can add up quickly if you consume more than the recommended serving size.

Identifying Processed Ingredients

Processed ingredients can be found in many packaged foods and often contain additives, artificial flavors, and preservatives. Here’s how to identify processed ingredients on food labels:

  1. Read the ingredients list carefully: Look for unfamiliar or hard-to-pronounce ingredients, which may indicate the presence of artificial additives or preservatives.
  2. Watch for hydrogenated oils: These are a source of unhealthy trans fats and can be found in some processed foods. Avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated oils.
  3. Pay attention to sodium content: Many processed foods are high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and other health issues. Aim for products with lower sodium levels.

Tips for Making Healthier Choices

Now that you know how to spot hidden sugars and processed ingredients, here are some tips to help you make healthier choices at the grocery store:

  1. Shop the perimeter: Focus on the outer aisles of the store, where you’ll find fresh produce, lean meats, and dairy products, which are less processed than items found in the center aisles.
  2. Choose whole foods: Opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  3. Cook at home: Preparing your meals at home allows you to control the ingredients and avoid hidden sugars and processed ingredients.
  4. Seek expert guidance: If you’re struggling to make sense of food labels or need personalized advice on making healthier food choices, consider seeking guidance from a personal trainer or online coach. They can help you create a balanced diet plan that meets your unique needs and fitness goals. In the Calgary area, Nathaniel Ernst and Tyson Linford are experienced personal trainers who can provide expert guidance and support.
  1. Get familiar with healthier brands and products: Once you find brands that prioritize wholesome ingredients and minimal processing, make a note of them and keep an eye out for their products when shopping.
  2. Practice moderation: It’s not always possible to avoid processed foods entirely, so when you do indulge, do so in moderation and make sure to balance your diet with plenty of whole, nutritious foods.


Understanding food labels is an essential skill for making healthier choices and avoiding hidden sugars and processed ingredients. By familiarizing yourself with the various names for sugar, learning to identify processed ingredients, and following the tips provided in this article, you can make more informed decisions about the foods you consume and take control of your health.

If you need extra support in making healthier food choices or tailoring a nutrition plan to your specific needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to a personal trainer or online coach. They can provide personalized advice and help you create a sustainable plan that supports your health and fitness goals.

For more information on health and fitness, check out our podcast: the Down & Dirty Podcast

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