In an age of manufactured and processed food it is only natural that we’re becoming more and more vigilant about checking the labels. After all, we want to put the right things into our bodies. However, artificial ingredients don’t often have the catchiest of names, and we can often feel a little bit in the dark over what’s actual going into our food. Luckily, we’re here to help. We’re going to tell you how to decipher your food labels, so that you can say goodbye to nasty ingredients once and for all.

Reading your labels

First of all, it’s important to know how food labels actually work. If you look at the list of ingredients, they should be in descending order; meaning that the ingredient that makes up the majority of the product will be first, with the one that makes up the least in last place. These will be in percentages. You’ll also have a nutrition table and any allergens, such as eggs, milk or nuts, will be clearly labelled.

What to look out for

So now that you’ve got the hang of labels, what should you be looking out for on them? There are a large number of harmful ingredients out there, but some of the worst culprits are as follows.

Hydrogenated oils are a source of trans fats – the kind of fat you should be avoiding. It can lead to diabetes, heart problems and cellular deterioration.

Sucralose, aspartame and saccharin are all artificial sweeteners that have possible links to cancer in humans; two studies have found a link between these and cancer in rats. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a proven neurotoxin, definitely something to avoid.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are used as colourants and preservatives, which is fine until you look at the effect they have on our bodies. When combined with the acids in our stomachs, they form nitrosamines, which can cause cancer. They also have the nasty side effects of vomiting, headaches, nausea and dizziness.

Potassium bromate has been banned in every country bar the USA and Japan, so it may be worth looking out for it on your travels. It has been shown to cause cancer in animals, so it’s best to stay safe and steer clear.

Artificial food colourings are also ones to look out for, with studies linking them to cancer too. If you see an ingredient that you don’t recognise but are suspicious of, leave the product on the shelf and do a little research. After all, it’s still going to be there tomorrow.

It’s time to clean up your diet

As you can see, it’s worth learning how to read food labels when there are so many harmful ingredients in some of our favourite products. Take a look in your kitchen cupboard and you’ might have a pretty nasty surprise.

While eliminating harmful ingredients from your diet may take a little hard work, your body will certainly thank you for it in the long run. So what are you waiting for?

Tammy Wilthshire is the Markating Manager for Labelnet, a leading UK label designer and manufacturer. Tammy understands how good label design is used to develop a professional product image.