When you check the ingredient list on the packaged foods you buy, you may notice other ingredients you didn’t realize were included.

By Kathryn McLean

Do you read food labels? If you’re not in the habit of checking the ingredients on the items you pick up at the store, you might be surprised by what you find once you start to read them.

The labels on packaged products list all the ingredients used in that product, in order of the amounts used. The first item represents the greatest amount. If you’re in the habit of buying fruit drinks for yourself, kids or grandkids, check the labels. Are you drinking juice or a mix of juice and water? Is there added sugar? More sugar than fruit?

Take a bottle of mango nectar that reads “water, mango puree, sugar, lemon juice.” There is more water than any other ingredient, followed by mango puree, then sugar and lemon juice. The juice is thick and made from pureed mango, but also includes added sugar.

Another brand lists: water, concentrated mango puree, concentrated apple juice, concentrated pear juice, citric acid, natural flavour, ascorbic acid (vitamin c). While this second juice is thinner and includes a mix of additional fruit juices, it doesn’t include any added sugar.

Now look at this third fruit juice drink, labeled fruit cocktail: water, glucose fructose [sugar], concentrated fruit juices,citric acid, natural flavours, vitamin C, pectin, colour. Just because a beverage has fruit on the label’s picture or fruit in the ingredient list, that doesn’t make it fruit juice. That last fruit drink contains more water and sugar than fruit juice.

True fruit juice will only list fruit juice (apple, orange or pineapple, for example). It may include citric acid as a preservative, but no water or added sugars. Water and concentrated juice is also a healthy option.

Do you buy bottled tomato sauce? You can easily make your own tomato sauce to control the ingredients, but if you want or need the shortcut, check the labels before you just toss one in your cart. You probably don’t want added sugar in your pasta sauce; the tomatoes should be sweet on their own. And surely you do not want more sugar than garlic powder, spices and herbs, which is the order on one packaged store-brand sauce. Sugar, followed by garlic, spices, and herbs.

Sometimes a food label will promote its ingredient list, trying to attract you to how healthy it is. You should still take a look at the ingredient list and compare the product to similar ones. Like with crackers. Grocery store shelves are full of crackers, and many varieties boast “multigrain” on the front of the package.

But whether these crackers include many grains, seeds or both, they are not all created equal. Some varieties have added sugar (including glucose fructose or molasses), while others don’t. Sure these crackers are probably tasty, but will you miss the sugar if you opt for a different type of cracker without those sugars?

Once you start checking the ingredient list on the packaged foods you buy, you may start noticing other ingredients you didn’t realize were included. Keep checking the labels and ingredient lists, and comparing products. Don’t rely on the product’s picture or name alone when you make your choice at the store.