Know What’s in Your Food: A Nutritionist’s Guide to Reading Food Labels (Part 1)

Reading Labels – The Top 10 Worst Ingredients (Part 1)

One of the things I always recommend to my clients is to read labels but what does that mean? It’s one thing to read the labels of the food you’re buying, it’s another thing entirely to decipher what those labels are telling you.

I figured I would help everyone out by giving some basic ingredients to always look out for. These are the first 5 of the top 10 ingredients you should avoid at all costs when purchasing food.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose (Splenda) and Saccharin, are some of the most toxic substances found in processed food. These are in foods that claim to be “sugar” and “fat” free. Experiments have shown that additives that taste sweet enhance your appetite and artificial sugars have been proven to lead to even greater weight gain than actual sugar! Yikes!

But that’s not even the worst of it. Aspartame is a neurotoxin that actually attacks the cells of your brain, and creates a toxic cellular overstimulation.

Other research has shown that Sucalose (Splenda) destroys your beneficial gut flora, alters your gut barrier function and inactivates digestive enzymes, meaning that the healthy food your consuming isn’t being broken down and digested properly.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Research has shown that the standard american/canadian diet contains more calories from HFCS than any other food source. HFCS increases your fat storing hormones and drives people to overeat and gain weight, especially around the belly area.

Again this sugar source triggers your brain to crave and binge eat more sweet things.

The most popular foods that contain HFCS are: crackers, sauces and condiments (ketchup, relish, steak sauce, etc), lunch meat, canned fruit, candy, soda pop, salad dressings, canned soups and tomatoes, bread, flavoured yogurt, cereal, granola bars, chips, cookies, baked goods, energy drinks, jam and jelly, and ice cream.

If that seems like a long list, it is. HFCS is hiding in almost every processed food. Buyer beware.

Artificial Trans Fats

Artificial Trans fats occur when hydrogen is added to a vegetable oil, turning it into a solid. Trans fats are often found in processed foods because they improve the taste and help the food stay shelf stable longer.

The good news is that Canada has finally banned the use of trans fats. The bad news is that retailers have 2 years to sell the products they already have that contain them. This means it’ll be 3 years before we no longer seem them in the grocery store.

These fats raised LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. They also clog your arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack.

The main rule, when it comes to trans fats, is to avoid anything that contains “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.

Vegetable Oils

Vegetables oils are often used in baked goods and fried foods. The worst ones to watch out for are vegetables oil, corn oil, soybean oil, palm oil, and canola oil.

When cooked they become hydrogenated oils and therefore trans fats. See above if you need to be reminded about the dangers and negative effects of trans fats and hydrogenated oils.


Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a “flavour enhancer” found in processed foods. Glutamates are naturally occurring in some foods, like meat and cheese, but MSG is a Frankenstein version that has been shown to seriously screw with brain chemistry. Many people now a days are sensitive to MSG and experience symptoms such as headaches, rapid heartbeat, and nausea and vomiting.

MSG is often found in Asian cuisines because of the sauces they use. Other sources include cookies and crackers, condiments and sauces, cured and smoked meats and sausages, soups and soup mixes, and potato chips.

Are you noticing a pattern in the foods that should be avoided? Processed foods are the most common sources of the most harmful ingredients we consume.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll finish off this list.




Crystal believes that proper nutrition is an important factor in overall health. She uses a holistic approach to promote a balanced lifestyle based on the individual. Holistic health encompasses not only the body’s physical needs but also mental, emotional and spiritual needs as well.  Crystal loves to travel and spends her spare time working on her art health blog, Artfully Healthy!

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