The Power (and Fun!) of Reading Labels

If you are living with food sensitivities or allergies (or both!) you are likely more aware of all the stuff food manufacturers put in our food!  (Crazy, isn’t it?!)

Seriously.  When I decided to read the label on iodized salt one day and saw they add sugar to salt, I was horrified.  (Which also just reinforced reading EVERY label!)   

But this is the foundation of self-care with food sensitivities and allergies – reading labels.  Doing your own due diligence and research to keep your diet as clean as possible.

The FDA helps us out a bit with the required labelling of the big eight allergens, soon to be nine.  That’s wonderful for those of us who react to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat and soy.  (And sesame will be the new ninth which has to be listed clearly starting January 2023.)  

But what about all of the other things to which many of us react?  And products that come from other countries or somehow otherwise get out of the labelling requirements?  That’s the challenge.  And here are four tips on how to make reading labels and finding safe foods a little easier and faster…

  1. Get to know how manufactured foods work.  Meaning read enough labels that you start to anticipate what will be in a particular product.  Become an expert and be strategic!  For instance, if you’re trying to eliminate dairy from your diet, you can pretty well assume that anything with a creamy texture is going to have dairy in it.  And if you put cream or milk or butter in a food while preparing it at home, many of the manufactured foods will do the same.  Things like mashed potatoes, many candies and baked goods, canned soups, salad dressings.  Even flavored potato chips will use, whey, a form of milk for the flavoring!  

  2. Learn the different names for your specific trigger food.  This one is critical!!  It’s like knowing someone’s nickname…you know them as Robert but who knew they also go by Bubba or Cliff?!  You already do this to some extent but the goal is to know as many of the possible names for that ingredient as possible.  Know it better than its own best friend would!  

  3. Eat fresh or frozen!  While frozen can still be a little tricky, fresh foods, especially local stuff, will rarely have hidden ingredients.  A pork chop is a pork chop and a green bell pepper is a green bell pepper!  

  4. Look for diet types that honor your food restrictions.  If you react to milk or fish, you can always look for prepared vegan foods, either at the grocery or in a restaurant, because you know they should not include any animal products.  If wheat is an issue, look more at the high protein-low carb products.  I’m not advocating for any specific diet here – in fact, I believe strongly that a varied diet is the best for all of us – but a diet can be a tool to use when looking for safe foods in a pinch!

And the biggest friendly tip I can share here is this – don’t believe the front of the label!  If it says it’s vegan, still read those ingredients for your food trigger.  If it says gluten-free, confirm that your food trigger is not listed.  It’s a quick read, but remember this is all ultimately your responsibility – it’s your health after all!  Don’t rely on someone else’s good intentions. 

Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip...

A really easy place to start practicing your label reading is your own pantry or cupboard!  Spend twenty-or-so seconds skimming the label of any items you pick up.  Get a feel for how the label is formatted – the FDA-mandated allergen list, usually in bold, is really handy!  But what about those other trigger foods?  Start looking!  

And if the whole thing frustrates you, I get it.  Work on re-framing – it’s a puzzle or a scavenger hunt.  Or, my favorite, is trying to guess what’s in it by a glance at the front of the label and then I read the ingredients.  Did I win?!?!   

Ultimately, this is the beginning of your reclaiming control of your health.  And that’s big stuff.  You can do it!!

And if you need a little backup, get your copy of my FREE resource Quick Guide to Reading Labels for Food Allergies and Sensitivities.


60-second self-care, food sensitivities, gluten-free, reading labels, self-advocate

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