Reading the Alienese On a Food Label
If you are anything like me you have glanced at a food label from time to time and felt it was trying to tell you something. What that something was came through like an alien language. But fear not, you do not need to find a translator from outer space. These simple tips I have learned will turn that alien language into plain text. Grab a food box/can and let’s go.
Step 1: Look for the allergens the food contains
If you look around the label (usually either on the bottom of the back or the side) you will find the words “this product may contain”, or “this product is packaged in a facility that handles”. This tells you that the product may contain things such as peanuts, soy, dairy, or wheat. That way if you are allergic to any of these items you know to put it down and back away.
Step 2: Look at the ingredients
This list (usually found towards the bottom of the back or on the side) shows what the food contains. This list is usually long and sometimes confusing but here are a few pointers to deciphering this list:
- The first two or three ingredients are the ones that are the most predominant in the food
- Anything you cannot pronounce is usually a sugar or preservative (i.e. monosodium glutamate, sodium sorbate, benzoic acid)
- Things with names such as sucrose, dextrose, malt, maltose, and fructose are sugars
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils are trans fats
- Things such as sodium benzoate, disodium, or monosodium glutamate are other names for salt
Step 3: Look at the serving size and how many servings are in a container
This is usually found right under the words nutrition facts and tells how much of the food is in a serving size. This could be things such as, “six crackers”, “one cup”, or “half a bar”. The second part, servings per container, tells you how many serving sizes are in the package.
Step 4: Check the calories
This is right under the serving size and tells you how many calories are in a serving size and next to it is how many calories within the serving are from fat.
Step 5: Check the % daily value
These daily value percentages are found within the Nutrition facts label and based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This section tells you how much and what kind of fats are within the food, how much cholesterol, sodium, carbs, fiber, and protein is in the food. Also contained within this section is the amount of vitamins and minerals within the food. These include things such as potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. These vitamins and minerals are good for you so do not fear high percentages of them. Higher percentages of sodium, cholesterol, sugars, and bad fats should be feared. These items should be limited for a healthy diet. Protein, good fats, and fiber are good for you. A word of caution is that good fats and protein should be limited.
Step 5 ½: Check the % daily values recommended
This information can be found in the footnote section of the label (usually in smaller print). This section tells you how much of the nutrients found in the food are recommended for daily intake. These recommendations are also based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet. Compare this information with the %DVs found within the food. The goals are to have less fats, cholesterol, and sodium that are less than the recommended daily value. You should get at least as much as the recommended DVs.
Now that you can read the alienese on the back of food here is a can of simple pumpkin to test your translation skills. I’ll give you a few minutes.
Done already? Pat yourself on the back and grab a serving size of your food. If there was anything still lost in translation please feel free to message us. Or if you want to show off your new alienese prowess we would be happy to hear from you as well.
Wishing you very happy holdidays and hoping you’ll join me in the kitchen next Friday.