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What Can the Ingredient List Tell You?

Ever get lost in the ingredient list? Here’s a breakdown to help understand what you are looking at.


Where is It?

It is always placed on the same pane as the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor (which is either on the PDP or information panel). Generally, it is below the Nutrition Facts, but can be to the right if there is not enough room below.


A diagram showing where the nutrition facts are
Where the nutrition facts are, relating to the Principle Display Panel

See also: What’s on the Nutrition Label?

How is it Ordered?

Something to keep in mind is that the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The ones at the top at the list are not necessarily the ingredients used in the largest amount (volume), but are the ones that take up the most weight in the product.

So approximately 3 cups of white sugar would be at around the same place on the list as 1 cup of cooked brown rice.

If there are ingredients used in very small amounts, some companies choose to include at the end of the ingredient list the following: “Contains _% or less of ‘___’” or “Less than _% of ___.’” This too is organized by weight from heaviest amount used to lightest.

See also: Get to Know Your Nutrients


Allergy Information

Out of the 160+ foods that can cause allergies there are eight “major food allergens” which constitute for 90% of all food allergies.

These eight – milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans – are the only allergens that are required to be identified on labels made from 2006 to present-day.


A picture of the eight major food allergens
The “Big Eight”

This illustration demonstrates the two ways the major food allergens can be included in the nutrition facts:





When a chemical preservative is added to the food, there needs to be clarification along with its name as to why it was used, like “preservative,” “to retard spoilage,” “a mold inhibitor,” “to help protect flavor,” or “to promote color retention,” etc.

See also: How to Understand and Apply the Nutrition Facts


When ingredients used in the product are made up of more than one ingredients themselves, the sub-ingredients must be listed directly afterwards in parenthesis. An example of this is shown in the above image.

The first ingredient listed, “enriched flour,” is a combination of seven ingredients, which are listed directly after in parenthesis. Someone who is reading the above nutrition label would read it skipping over each word that has a set of parenthesis following it to avoid confusion and counting items twice.


To Summarize

The ingredient list has a lost to offer, and in my opinion, is the most important part of the nutrition facts label.


Thanks for reading!




“Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Accessed 22 July 2016.

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 101, February, 2016. Accessed 22 July, 2016.

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