Food Labels

Food Ingredients on Labels

Regardless of what else is on the label, there is much valuable information to be learned from food ingredients on labels. All food labels list the ingredients in order of weight: The ingredient with the greatest amount of weight is listed first; the ingredient with the least amount is listed last. So, if a product lists a particular fat (or oil) as the first ingredient, the product contains more of that fat than any other single ingredient. If the product label lists several fats and oils, that product is likely to be high in total fat.

The accompanying table lists common sources of saturated fat and cholesterol. It’s best to cut back on foods that list these ingredients first or that list several of them if you want to lower your cholesterol.

Common ingredients that contain saturated fat and/or cholesterol include:

bacon fatchicken fatwhole-milk solidscocoa butter
pork fat or lard turkey fat egg yolks coconut oil
beef fat butter vegetable shortening palm kernel oil
lamb fat cream hydrogenated vegetable oil palm oil

You'll also want to pay special attention to the specific types of fats and oils the product contains. For example, some products simply list vegetable oil as an ingredient. While that may imply a healthful oil, remember that tropical oils -- coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil -- are highly saturated. Cocoa butter is also high in saturated fat. Other than these oils, vegetable oils are primarily unsaturated fats. But remember if the oil is partially hydrogenated, that means it contains trans fat. To limit trans fat in your diet, look for products that list non-hydrogenated monounsaturated or polyunsaturated vegetable oil in the ingredients, such as olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, sesame, or soybean oil.

For more information about nutritious eating, see:

  • Eating Healthy: A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is great for maintaining good health. Find out which food choices work best in a healthy eating plan.
  • Low Cholesterol Diet: Eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is the best way to reduce your cholesterol and your risk of coronary heart disease. Explore the dietary choices that can help you lower your cholesterol.
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, how it functions in the body, and why too much of it can be deadly.
  • Weight Loss: For many people, weight loss is an important goal. Explore the different methods of losing weight, and see which can work for you.


Adrienne Forman, M.S., R.D., is a consultant and freelance writer, specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the editor of Shape Up America! newsletter, an online publication, and has been a contributing editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter for the past 14 years. Adrienne is a former Senior Nutritionist at Weight Watchers International, where she was instrumental in creating multiple weight-loss programs, including their popular Points® program.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.