5 Tips to Quickly Scan Food Labels

It’s time to put away our “summer indulgences” attitude and put on our “thinking healthier” mindset.

Whether you’re getting back on track for the fall or prepping the kids for the new school year, this is the perfect time to get back into healthy eating.  One of the most important ways to do that is to know how to quickly scan a food label.

Here are 5 quick tips for reading a food label:

  • Look at the amount of SUGAR 4g = 1 tsp

A food label will list Sugar in grams (g).  Divide the number of grams by 4 to find out how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving.  For example, a can of Coke has 39g of sugar.  39 divided by 4 = 9 ¾ teaspoons of sugar.

  • Look at the SERVING SIZE

Beware of small serving sizes on a nutrition label.  You may want to eat the whole package, but if there are 2 servings per package, you have to double the amounts of the nutritional label.  For example, an Arizona Iced Tea can reads 18 g of sugar per serving.  18 divided by 4 equals 4.5 teaspoons of sugar.  Seems better than the can of Coke right?  But the serving size is for 250 mL, and the can is 680 mL.  So if you are drinking the whole can, you are actually getting twelve teaspoons of sugar. Tricky!

  • Quick scan of the INGREDIENTS 

With a quick scan of the ingredients, ask yourself:

  • How many ingredients are there? The fewer the better.  A long ingredient list is a red flag for potentially hidden sugars, fats, and chemicals.
  • Can you picture the ingredients? You can probably picture things like water, eggs, milk, flour, oats, honey, etc. You probably can’t picture things like maltodextrin, acesulfame potassium, monosodium glutamate, etc.  Don’t trust ingredients you can’t pronounce!
  • Look for HIDDEN SUGARS
    Food manufacturers know we are on to the fact that sugars are bad for us.  But they want to keep it in our food because it tastes good and will keep us coming back for more. Here are some hidden names for sugars:

    Anything that ends in “ose” – glucose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, etc.
  • The words “syrup” or “sweetener” – barley syrup, rice syrup, corn sweetener, etc.
  • The word “sugar” – cane sugar, beet sugar, invert sugar, palm sugar, raw sugar, etc.
  • The word “juice” – dehydrated/evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, etc.
  • Some trickier names – carbitol, diglycerides, disaccharides, erythritol, Florida crystals, glucitol, glucoamine, hexitol, inversol, isomalt, maltodextrin, malted barley, malts, mannitol, nectars, pentose, rice malt, sorbitol, sorghum, sucanet, zylose, etc.

See the next article for more on the dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup and how to spot it on a food label


Trans fats are renowned to be bad for you, especially by increasing your risk of heart disease.  But, food manufacturers have tricky ways to keep trans fats in their food.  Most trans fats now are labelled as: “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.  The oil can be any oil from palm oil, to corn oil, to sunflower oil.

To make matters worse, food manufacturers are allowed to state “0 trans fats” if the product has less than 0.5g of trans fats per serving.  You will find foods that say “0 trans fats” in big letters on the front of the box, and the nutritional label will read “0 trans fats”.  But the ingredients will still list hydrogenated oils.

Avoid any oils that are “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”

Stay tuned for more health tips from the Well Street health teams supporting total wellbeing, prevention strategies and vitality.

Well Street helps organizations take a proactive approach to total wellbeing in the workplace. Don’t wait to react; companies can integrate health and wellness prevention strategies to empower wellness and drive employee engagement and happiness. Learn about our most popular total wellbeing programs: Mindfulness and Healthy Stress and a broad range of inspiring wellness  Seminars.  Ask about our “Decoding Food Labels” Seminar.

By: Jaty Tam ND. Dr. Jaty is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto and the Medical Director and Co-Founder of Well Street Health. Driven by her passion for health education, and her desire to bring wellness principles to the corporate world (in which she spent many years before becoming a Naturopathic Doctor), Dr. Jaty, continues to inspire audiences and build innovative corporate wellness programs that cultivate winning wellness cultures.

Spark up your wellness culture! Ask about Dr. Jaty’s Keynote Speaking on trending health topics.