Simple Cheat Sheet to Read Ingredient & Nutritional Labels

Cheat Sheet for Ingredient & Nutritional Labels

This is a guide and a Simple Cheat Sheet to Read Ingredient & nutritional Labels with ease. The top is an explanation of terms and below is a list of ingredients to avoid and why.

Serving size and servings per container

Beware that “serving size” is not always the whole package.  If the serving size on the label is one cup and you eat two cups, you’re getting double the calories and fat, mentioned in the label as well as everything else on the list


Note that these are the calories per serving, not the whole container.
A low-calorie food is 40 calories or less per serving. I am not a huge fan of counting or watching calories, as long as you are eating real foods, but it can be used as a guide for portions.

Calories from fat

Limit fat by choosing foods with less than 30% of calories from fat.

Total fat

This includes saturated and unsaturated fats.  Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of total calories.  A low fat food has 3 grams or less per serving.

Trans fats

Aim to avoid foods with trans fats.  Food companies are allowed to list 0 grams of trans fats if the product contains less than 0.5 grams.  Read the ingredient label and look out for hidden trans fats which are referred to as partially hydrogenated oils.

(More below) 



Cholesterol is only found in animal products.  Limit cholesterol to less than 300 mg a day.  A low-cholesterol food contains 20 mg or less per serving.


Choose foods that contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

On the ingredient panel, look out for hidden sugars disguised as: corn syrup, dextrin, honey, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, maltose, and glucose.


Low sodium is 140 mg or less per serving (avoid high sodium foods with 400 mg or more per serving).

Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) sodium per day (about 1 tsp of table salt), and even further reduce intake to 1,500 mg (about ¾ tsp of table salt) if you are 51 and older, sensitive to salt, or if you are of any age and are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease

(Most of the sodium you eat is likely from processed foods.)

(Potassium – These counteract some of sodium’s effects on blood pressure meet the daily potassium recommendation of at least 4,700 milligrams, by consuming fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes, beet greens, white beans, plain yogurt, prune juice, and bananas.)

% Daily Value (DV)

This is an estimate of how individual foods contribute to your daily diet (based on 2,000 calories a day).  Simply add up all the percentages of “% daily value” from the foods you eat for a specific nutrient.  If you reach 100% then your daily recommendations have been met

5% or less DV is low – aim for low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.  20% or more DV is high – aim for high in vitamins (A and C), minerals (calcium and iron), and fiber.


Aim for ~35 grams of fiber per day.  Choose foods with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving (5 grams per serving is considered high fiber).

*Ingredient list

Ingredients are listed on the label by the amount used in the product. The first is the most amount and last is the least. So if sugar is the first ingredient you can be sure the product contains too much sugar.

Ingredients to Avoid

If you avoid these foods you will cut out most of the problem

  • Avoid fast foods
  • Avoid soda and sugary drinks & juice
  • Eat hormone-free meat
  • Avoid commercial milk
  • Avoid processed foods (including meats)
  • Candy

For ingredients specific to avoid in soaps & cosmetics see my blogs here Skin Care & Deodorant / Cosmetics

While FDA generally recognizes most additives on this list as ‘safe,’ there are growing concerns about the safety of many common food additives, if consumed in large quantities. Here are the main offenders:

General Ingredients to Avoid

  • Natural & Artificial Flavors – This is loaded with MSG despite that putting MSG directly in foods is illegal. MSG typically builds up in your brain, going deep into your brain tissue. It can then cause inflammation and swelling, kill thousands of your brain cells, disrupt electrical impulses, weaken neurotransmitters, burn out neurons, make you feel confused and anxious, and even lead to micro-strokes. There are also other dangerous additives in “natural flavors” as well. 
  • Citric Acid – Citric acid is very irritating to the lining of the stomach and the intestinal tract, so it can create a lot of inflammation and discomfort if you’re sensitive to it. Citric acid (the additive) is not the same thing as naturally occurring acid in citrus. The isolated ingredient citric acid is often corn-derived. Especially if you’re experiencing any kind of stomach pain, keep an eye out for citric acid on ingredient labels and consider skipping foods that include it.
  • Sodium nitrate: Added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth. Linked to cancer in humans. (Worst Offender)
  • Sulfites: Used to keep prepared foods fresh. Can cause breathing difficulties in those sensitive to the ingredient.
  • Azodicarbonamide: Used in bagels and buns. Can cause asthma.
  • Potassium bromate: Added to breads to increase volume. Linked to cancer in humans.
  • Propyl gallate: Added to fat-containing products. Linked to cancer in humans
  • BHA/BHT: A fat preservative, used in foods to extend shelf life. Linked to cancerous tumor growth.
  • Propylene glycol: Better known as antifreeze. Thickens dairy products and salad dressing. Deemed ‘generally’ safe by FDA.
  • Butane: Put in chicken nuggets to keep them tasting fresh. A known carcinogen.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Flavor enhancer that can cause headaches. Linked in animal studies to nerve damage, heart problems, and seizures.
  • Disodium inosinate: In snack foods. Contains MSG.
  • Disodium guanylate: Also used in snack foods, and contains MSG.
  • Enriched flour: Used in many snack foods. A refined starch that is made from toxic ingredients.
  • Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Genetically-engineered version of natural growth hormone in cows. Boosts milk production in cows. Contains high levels of IGF-1, which is thought cause various types of cancer.
  • Refined vegetable oil: Includes soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. High in omega-6 fats, which are thought to cause heart disease and cancer.
  • Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in salad dressing and carbonated beverages. A known carcinogen and may cause damage to our DNA.
  • Brominated vegetable oil: Keeps flavor oils in soft drinks suspended. Bromate is a poison and can cause organ damage and birth defects. Not required to be listed on food labels.
  • Propyl gallate: Found in meats, popcorn, soup mixes, and frozen dinners. Shown to cause cancer in rats. Banned in some countries. Deemed safe by FDA.
  • Olestra: Fat-like substance that is unabsorbed by the body. Used in place of natural fats in some snack foods. Can cause digestive problems, and is also not healthy for the heart.
  • Carrageenan: Stabilizer and thickening agent used in many prepared foods. Can cause ulcers and cancer.
  • Polysorbate 60: A thickener that is used in baked goods. Can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  • Carnauba wax: Used in chewing gums and to glaze certain foods. Can cause cancer and tumors.
  • Magnesium sulfate: Used in tofu, and can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  • Chlorine dioxide: Used in bleaching flour. Can cause tumors and hyperactivity in children.
  • Paraben: Used to stop mold and yeast from forming in foods. Can disrupt hormones in the body, and could be linked to breast cancer.
  • Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose: Used as a thickener in salad dressings. Could cause cancer in high quantities.
  • Aluminum: A preservative in some packaged foods that can cause cancer.

Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by FDA, just as food additives are, but this does not apply to products ‘generally recognized as safe.

  • Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats. (Worst Offender)
  • Aspartame: An excitotoxin and thought to be a carcinogen. Can cause dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, and stomach problems.
  • High fructose corn syrup: Sweetener made from corn starch. Made from genetically-modified corn. Causes obesity, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and insulin resistance.
  • Acesulfame potassium: Used with other artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and ice cream. Linked to lung and breast tumors in rats.
  • Sucralose: Splenda. Can cause swelling of the liver and kidneys and a shrinkage of the thymus gland.
  • Agave nectar: Sweetener derived from a cactus. Contains high levels of fructose, which causes insulin resistance, liver disease, and inflammation of body tissues.
  • Bleached starch: Can be used in many dairy products. Thought to be related to asthma and skin irritations.
  • Tert butylhydroquinone: Used to preserve fish products. Could cause stomach tumors at high doses.

Artificial Food Colorings to Avoid

Food colorings give foods a more attractive appearance, but some experts believe they cause serious health problems, including asthma and hyperactivity in children.

Artificial colors blue 1, 2, green 3, red 3, and yellow 6 have been linked to thyroid, adrenal, bladder, kidney, and brain cancers. Always seek out foods with the fewest artificial chemicals, especially for kids. Look for color-free medications and food products without artificial colors like these:

  • Red #40: Found in many foods to alter the color. All modern food dyes are derived from petroleum. A carcinogen that is linked to cancer in some studies. Also can cause hyperactivity in children. Banned in some European countries. (Worst Offender)
  • Blue #1: Used in bakery products, candy, and soft drinks. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer.
  • Blue #2: Used in candy and pet food beverages. Can cause brain tumors
  • Citrus red #1: Sprayed on oranges to make them look ripe. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer.
  • Citrus red #2: Used to color oranges. Can cause cancer if you eat the peel.
  • Green #3: Used in candy and beverages. May cause bladder tumors.
  • Yellow#5: Used in desserts, candy, and baked goods. Thought to cause kidney tumors, according to some studies.
  • Yellow #6: A carcinogen used in sausage, beverages, and baked goods. Thought to cause kidney tumors, according to some studies.
  • Red #2: A food coloring that may cause both asthma and cancer.
  • Red #3: A carcinogen. that is added to cherry pie filling, ice cream, and baked goods. May cause nerve damage and thyroid cancer.
  • Caramel coloring: In soft drinks, sauces, pastries, and breads. When made with ammonia, it can cause cancer in mice. Food companies not required to disclose if this ingredient is made with ammonia.
  • Brown HT: Used in many packaged foods. Can cause hyperactivity in children, asthma, and cancer.
  • Orange B: A food dye that is used in hot dogs and sausage casings.  High doses are bad for the liver and bile duct.
  • Bixin: Food coloring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.
  • Norbixin:  Food coloring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.
  • Annatto: A food coloring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.

If you want to know specific ingredients that are not mentioned here. At this link below you will find a full encyclopedia of what to avoid:


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By utilizing the information presented on this site, you agree to and understand that Bill Farr is not a doctor or any other type of certified health care professional, and his opinion is not a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your doctor or your other health care providers concerning your symptoms and medical requirements before following any of the remedies or other suggestions he offers. His opinion is based on his own research and is to be used for educational purposes only. Bill Farr’s wellness plans and advice are meant to be used in conjunction with standard allopathic or osteopathic medical treatment and care.


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