How to Read Food Labels

Additives in packaged foods prevent spoiling and make food look and taste better, but some may not be so good for your children. To help you make informed decisions at the grocery store, check out our chart, then read package labels before you buy.
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Artificial colors like Blue Dye No. 2, Yellow No. 5, Red No. 3 and No. 40

  • Commonly found in: Fruit punch, soda, chewable vitamins, candy, cookies, jam, dressing, and cereal.
  • Should you avoid? Skip them if possible. Red No. 3 has in some studies been linked to a slightly increased risk of cancer, according to the FDA.

Locust-bean gum, carrageenan, and guar gum

  • Commonly found in: Infant formula, ice cream, syrup, marshmallows.
  • Should you avoid? No. These thickening agents come from natural sources like seaweed.

Modified cornstarch or food starch

  • Commonly found in: Pudding, cookies, cake, gravy, pasta, yogurt, breakfast cereal, some baby food.
  • Should you avoid? No, unless your child is allergic to wheat, gluten, or corn.

Hydrogenated vegetable oil

  • Commonly found in: Cereal, bread, frozen dinners, waffles, desserts, and candy.
  • Should you avoid? Yes. Hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) increase cholesterol and heart-disease risk, which is why the FDA will require manufacturers to list trans-fatty-acid content on labels by 2006.

Sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite

  • Commonly found in: Bacon, lunch meat, hot dogs, snack meals.
  • Should you avoid? Limit it. Some studies show that nitrates in heavy amounts may be linked to cancer.

Copyright 2005. Reprinted with permission of Parents magazine May 2005 issue.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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