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How to Analyze a List of Ingredients in 3 Steps?

Did you know that labelling the list of ingredients on all packaged foods has been mandatory only since the last 5 years? When I think about it, only one thing comes to mind: “How did people know what was in their food before?” The list of ingredients is a wealth of information about the nutritional value of foods. To make things simple, here is how to interpret it in 3 easy steps:

  1. Choose products that list healthy ingredients at the beginning of the list.
    Ingredients are listed in decreasing weight order, that is, from the most abundant to the least. Thus, a product with “glucose-fructose” listed as first ingredient will have less nutritional value than a product indicating “seven whole grain mix” at the top of the list.
  2. Favourize short lists of ingredients.
    These products are generally simpler, natural, and closer to homemade meals.
  3. Learn how to distinguish good ingredients from bad ingredients.

Sure, many additives have unthinkable names! Who has never refused to purchase a product that contained ascorbic acid or xantham gum? In truth, these ingredients with weird names are generally used to preserve, colour, or flavour foods. For example, ascorbic acid is the chemical name of vitamin C and is used to better preserve bakery products, while xantham gum is a natural thickener.

On the other hand, some ingredients that can seem familiar are rather rich in saturated or trans fats, salt, or sugar. By the way, here is a short list of ingredients you should avoid, or at least find at the bottom of your list of ingredients:



Associated ingredient


Saturated fats

  • Coconut, coconut oil, copra oil
  • Palm oil, palm kernel oil
  • Hydrogenated oils and fats
  • Shortening
  • Powdered whole milk solids
  • Butter, cocoa butter
  • Chicken fat, beef fat
  • Bacon, lard, suet

Trans fats

  • Hard margarine
  • Hydrogenated fats and oils (or partially hydrogenated)
  • Shortening


  • All ingredients containing the word “sodium”. Examples: sodium alginate, sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate, disodium phosphate, etc.
  • Chemical yeast
  • Soy sauce
  • Brine
  • Salt, celery salt, garlic salt, onion salt


  • All ingredients ending with the term “ose”. Examples: dextrose, fructose, glucose-fructose, etc.
  • Sugar cane extract, evaporated cane juice
  • Molasses, honey, syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Demerara sugar, turbinado sugar, invert sugar, liquid sugar

Will you take the time to read the list of ingredients from now on?

By Vanessa Martin

Vanessa Martin

A newcomer to Nautilus Plus, Vanessa Martin holds a degree in nutrition from the Université de Montréal and is a member in good standing of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec. She also works in the hospital setting and loves to blog in her spare time. Passionate and versatile, Vanessa plans on enhancing her knowledge in the field of psychology with an eye to better guiding and motivating the habit-changing endeavors of her clients. Member of a running club, she enjoys taking part in the competitions organized in her area. Vanessa is currently training for a 21 km race and would like to run her first marathon!

How to Analyze a List of Ingredients in 3 Steps? is a post from I'm taking charge. I'm taking charge is a blog that aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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