Reading Nutrition Labels

Making healthy choices at the supermarket is not always easy. Food labels offer misleading information and inaccurate catch phrases that can trick even the savviest shopper. It is important to know what these words actually mean in order to choose the foods that offer the highest levels of vitamins and nutrients. Here are some common claims you will see on food labels.

Lightly Sweetened

While the FDA has strict definitions for phrases such as ‘sugar free’, ‘no sugar added’ and ‘reduced sugar’, the term lightly sweetened has few standards. Brands are free to slap the label on cereals, juices and other products that are loaded with sugar. Read the nutrition information to get a more accurate sense of the item’s sugar content.

Cage Free

Often confused with free range, eggs and poultry with this label simply mean that these animals are uncaged inside of barns. It does not mean that they have any access to the outdoors. There is no oversight on this label and certification is optional.

Multi Grain

While this sounds very healthy, the truth is all it means is that the product contains more than one grain. Unless marked ‘whole grain’, chances are the grains in the product have been refined, stripping them of their healthiest nutrients.

All Natural

This is another phrase that the FDA does not clearly define. As long as their products do not contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances”, manufacturers are free to put this label on their packaging.


If a product has an FDA label marking it ‘Organic’, 95% or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. However, organic sugar is still sugar. Be smart about the choices you make when selecting organic foods.


These products are processed to reduce fat or calorie content. Other additives, like sugar, are sometimes increased to offset the flavor change created by taking out the product’s fat.

Fat Free

This phrase is possibly the most misleading of all food label claims. Fat free does NOT equal low calorie. Quite often fat free foods contain as much, if not more calories than their full-fat content alternatives. Be sure to check the label for calorie and sugar content information.

Made with Real Fruit

Many juices, fruit snacks, cereals and cookies make this claim. The FDA does not regulate what percentage of the product must be fruit in order to be considered ‘made with real fruit’. Read the nutrition information on the packaging to see how much and what kind of fruit is in the item.


While these products are becoming easier to find, they are not inherently healthy foods. These products can still be loaded with sugar, fat and carbohydrates. All gluten free means is that the product doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye or barley. Unless you suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there is no nutritional benefit to choosing gluten free foods.

Informed consumers need to be food detectives when trying to make healthy, nutritious choices at the supermarket. Once you are familiar with nutrition labels, the process becomes much easier. Do your research and investigate which products live up to the packaging hype they advertise.