Reading Food Labels: Taking a Closer Looking into Ingredients


Posted 3.9.10 | Sarah O'Brien

Back in our vitamin series we often referenced the ingredient list on formula & food labels and helped identify some of those long words as vitamins. This sparked us to think about ingredients in general and the importance of understanding ingredients when dealing with food allergies.

There is so much more to ingredients then what’s listed on the label. So, of course, we decided to blog about it! Understanding fats, carbohydrates and proteins will be the topic of our next series. Within the next few months we hope to cover some common inquiries such as types of fat, healthy vs. unhealthy fats, types of carbohydrate including corn, identify sugars, and hidden allergens such as dairy, and explain the building blocks of protein.

A few things to keep in mind while reading those labels and looking at ingredient lists:

  • The FDA requires all manufacturers to list all ingredients in the food on the label.
  • Based on the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, manufacturers are required to list the top eight foods which account for the most food allergies in commonly used terms. This does not include allergens accidentally introduced during manufacturing or packaging through cross-contamination.
  • Ingredients are listed in order of predominance. The ingredient used in the greatest amount is listed first, followed by those in smaller amounts listed next, in descending order.
  • There are several different types of ingredients such as:
    • Preservatives (ascorbic acid, citric acid) to prevent food from spoiling
    • Emulsifiers (soy lecithin, mono-and diglycderides) which allow smooth mixing and prevent separation
    • Sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium) to add sweetness with or without the extra calories
    • Color Additives (citrus red no. 2, beta-carotene) which offsets color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes or moisture

Don’t forget to check back with us next week as we kick-off our ingredient series with the topic of fats. Do you have any questions on what’s listed in the ingredients on food labels?

- Sarah

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.