….Reading labels

Reading label: Reading hieroglyphics might be easier

Recently I see a lot of people asking about products and if they are acceptable for a LCHF lifestyle. Nobody really knows what to look at and what they are reading. Should you be looking at the nutritional label or the ingredient, and if it says low carb or sugar-free then it should be ok. Right?

I had to learn the hard way how to correctly (yes, very important) read labels. When I was told to follow a gluten-free diet, I really thought it would be easy as all gluten free products are labeled – GLUTEN FREE. Well, to my surprise it turned out to be much harder. When we had to start reading labels for Little M, we realized how had it can be.

So where should you start? And what part of the label should you look at first. I am no expert but this is how we do it. Maybe everybody read labels differently as you might look for something different. For us we look at the following – no grains (yes, not only gluten-free), soya, sugar (this one is very tricky)

Ingredient Labels – This is my first stop. Check what they put into the product. Remember you are looking for products with as few ingredients as possible. We mainly buy fresh produce, so that’s no brainer, but be warned – check the ingredients of frozen vegetables.


Below is another a great example. You would expect that a 90% cocoa chocolate would contain 90 % cocoa and not much else. SUPRISE!! Ingredients include – cocoa paste, cocoa butter, low-fat cocoa, SUGAR, Bourbon vanilla beans! Can somebody please explain to me what low fat cocoa is??


Nutrition Labels – Many people thing the nutrition label tells you what the product is made of. Sadly this is wrong. The nutritional information only offers you a simple and easy way to choose an item that might contain less saturated fat, sodium (salt) or carbohydrates. If you follow a low carb lifestyle, you might find a product that contain “approved” ingredients but the carb content is extremely high.

The nutritional label will also help you to determine the serving size (suggested). The problem (at least for me) with this is nobody really checks or adhere to these guidelines. A well know cereal brand suggested serving size is 50 g but not even they adhere to this serving size as some of their products are individually packed and 75g. So without even realizing you will already consume more than what they recommend.


Sugar free – This must be my favourite label of all times. Just because it says it is sugar-free, please, and I repeat, please do not think it is a good product. Most of the time sugar free only means it contains no cane sugar, you know the white stuff everybody just love. If I have to pick between sugar and some artificial sweetener that was produced in a chemistry lab (not that I would want either one) I would rather go for the sugar. Here are some example of “sugar-free labels”, and you will be shocked at how misleading they are.

Maltitol = SUGAR


Sugar free syrup: Sorbitol = SUGAR


They love hiding sugar in food products and just call it something else. Have you ever seen the following ingredients on a label (so-called sugar-free) – sucrose, dextrose, cane syrup, maltose,  agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, barley malt, brown rice syrup, coconut palm sugar, fruit juice or its concentrates, maple syrup, molasses, date puree – its all SUGAR. Next time you buy a sugar free product, check how many of these hidden names you can find. You will be shocked.

Just to name a few


Gluten free – Gluten free does not automatically mean low carb! Most gluten-free products are made with rice, potato, tapioca flours, all high in carbs and not really part of a LCHF lifestyle. To be honest, we do use some gluten free products for Little M, as it is extremely difficult to find treat for her that does not contain – gluten, soya, dairy, eggs, sugar and nuts. She knows it is only a treat and even though some days she wants more, we try our best to control it. Be very careful not indulge in  gluten free products as they are often not as healthy as they would like you to think. Just have a look at all the ingredients on the KIDS biscuits below.


To me the worst part of reading labels are when you realize how much sugar they add to food items or snacks made for kids. Especially babies. We are very guilty here. I also tend to buy snacks for Little M and only check the allergens. It is very important to check all the ingredients, especially when you buy something for kids. Sadly, to get kids to eat “healthy” products they cover it in sugar to appeal to their taste buds. I guess we are very lucky that Little M eats mainly only fresh produce with limited fruit and processed treats.


I decided to make use of some typical everyday products to show you how misleading labels can be. It is so easy to buy tomato relish and add it to curry or stew or even as a base for pizza. This is just one example of how much extra “nasties” they add to something that should be fairly healthy. The same with canned pilchards. It is a cheap source of protein and a staple in many households in South Africa. Once again it should be simple, but they add ingredients which is not suitable for a LCHF lifestyle

Chemically modified corn starch????

Its is very important to read both the ingredients as well as nutritional information on products. Once you check the ingredients, and they are all “approved”, check the nutritional information. Be very careful with what you read. The information can be very misleading (per serving, per 100g etc.). The best option is always product with only one ingredient, and do not need any labels. So the next time you walk past a person, reading labels and looking confused, remember they are most likely trying to decipher all the clever marketing lingo. 


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