The Earlier Ingredients Are On A Label, The More There Is Inside

Did you know that ingredients on ingredients labels are listed in their descending order of proportion?

Say you’re shopping for aloe. If WATER is one of the first ingredients, it’s a ripoff. Similarly, if you’re trying to buy healthy foods you would want to avoid products where SUGAR is one of the first ingredients (also be aware of the different names sugar can hide under, like CANE JUICE or FRUCTOSE).

(Photo: Getty)


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  1. HungryGrrl says:

    I thought this was common knowledge!

  2. girly says:

    I’ve heard of this, but good tip for ppl to look out for.

    And of course there are the mystery ingredients like ‘seasonings’ and ‘natural flavors’

  3. homerjay says:

    Me too…

  4. Dervish says:

    Yeah, me three.

    Except when you have “contains 2% or less” statements.

  5. HungryGrrl says:

    I do admit to getting ripped off on personal care products by sometimes neglecting to read the labels- once I spent $7 on some fancy “Aquaphor” hand cream, got home and realized that the main ingredient is vaseline!

  6. lalahsghost says:

    I add to the consensus that this was known by most people with an IQ higher than a turnip~ :3

  7. morsteen says:

    I remember learning this like in 3rd grade nutrition/health class. Maybe kids are getting confused nowadays with the habla ebonica and espanol that they don’t even pay the little attention that it takes to soak in this information. LOL.

  8. Eliamias says:

    The best are the foods where the first three ingredients are glucose closely followed by sucrose and fructose.

  9. MystiMel says:

    Everyone knows that…

  10. faust1200 says:

    I guess Ben just figured this out. Bless his heart.

  11. dancemonkey says:

    My favorite are breads with high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and fructose.

    I think Ben would have gotten away with this if he’d just created a tag that was something like “obvious” or “easy-to-forget”.

  12. Chicago7 says:


    Bless his “pea-pickin'” heart.

    /Thanks to Tennessee Ernie Ford.

  13. backspinner says:

    My mommy taught me that when I was 9.

  14. logie-al says:

    Chewing gum “Gum Base” = Wax, plastic and rubber

  15. drjayphd says:

    In related news: Sun rises in the morning, expected to set later this evening.

  16. morganlh85 says:

    I hope you know that. I knew that when I was like 7.

  17. max andrews says:

    For people who did not already know this, their world view has probably just drastically shifted in a profound way. Shop on, newly informed folk!

  18. Frostberg says:

    The consumerist for dummies!

    or the kid’s consumerist

  19. backspinner says:

    Konsumerist 4 Kidz!

  20. thepounder says:

    Actually I learned this in — if I recall correctly — middle school… so somewhere around 1983 or thereabouts.
    However, unless you watch a lot of Food Network it doesn’t strike me as something any teacher would mention unless it’s Home Ec.

    Why’s everyone sippin’ on the Haterade on this post? ouch.

    @lalahsghost: Turnips are blech… maybe smarter than a radish? (Radish ingredients: radishy goodness)

  21. EtherealStrife says:

    Where are some shooting stars when you need em?

    Next up: righty tighty lefty loosey!

  22. chili_dog says:

    Now now, you can’t get too snippy, Ben is from The City. The same place that smells like urine, vomit and exhaust all at the same time. Why would anyone ever want to know what was in something with that as an aroma.

  23. junkmail says:

    @EtherealStrife: Whoa… you’ve changed my life…

  24. CyGuy says:

    @chili_dog: “Ben is from The City. The same place that smells like urine, vomit and exhaust all at the same time. “

    I hope those ingredients aren’t listed in order of percent included.

    Also note that the names of foods often give a clue – famously Kraft Mac-n-Cheese that used to run ads that it was so cheesy they should call it Cheese-n-Macaroni (which of course they couldn’t unless it actually did contain more cheese than pasta).

  25. thepounder says:

    @Cy Guy: Oh, that powdered cheesy goodness does bring back memories though.

  26. Jesse in Japan says:

    Also, if it says “Pure Honey” on the front, but then there’s any other ingredient (besides honey) in the list of ingredients, it’s not that pure.

  27. shoegazer says:

    @Jesse in Japan: Would you have them put “made with Pure honey” and waste 8 whole letters? Dat’s crazy talk!

  28. Ben Popken says:

    If you guys want to buy watery aloe, be my guest.

  29. humorbot says:

    @drjayphd: The sun is setting? Setting?! You’re crazy. That’s crazy talk.

  30. jeff303 says:

    One trick they do is to group ingredients together. For instance, in a microwave dinner with rice and sauce the ingredients list might say something like

    Rice (white rice, corn starch), sauce (high fructose corn syrup, malodextrin, hydrolyzed yeast extract)

    In this case there is probably more HFCS in the sauce than corn starch in the rice, even though it appears later in the overall list. I think within each sub-group the order is descending as well.

  31. LTS! says:

    Yes yes.. important items to note.

    First, in the case of Aquaphor, the base of the ointment is most assuredly going to be listed first, it’s the stuff they add to the ointment that’s important, so just because it’s vaseline doesn’t mean it does not contain other items that differentiate it from vaseline. The primary ingredient in beer is water, yet we all know beer water.

    I don’t the grouping is a trick per se. It’s usually done because the sauce is added to the meal and therefore it’s grouped. It’s like reading a recipe where they have how to make your fajitas w/ guacamole dinner. The fajita recipe is separate from the guacamole recipe. However, the one thing that is true is that there is less sauce than there is rice.

  32. zibby says:

    I remember learning this from a Weekly Reader in third grade. That night I tried to convince some blowhard friend of my parents that it was true, but the fool refused to believe it. Sample counter-argument: “They don’t send you to school to learn about labels on cans.”

    Of course now I’m older and I can dismiss children, so it’s all good.

  33. However, unless you watch a lot of Food Network it doesn’t strike me as something any teacher would mention unless it’s Home Ec.

    @thepounder: I remember reading about it in Health class though I can see why one wouldn’t think that it’s a normal part of the class curriculum. Maybe it isn’t.

    Either way, I’m willing to bet most people don’t consult that list unless they have allergies or other dietary/health needs that require them to make sure something isn’t in it at all.

  34. @HungryGrrl: But is it 40% vaseline or is it 85% vaseline? The list tells you that there is more vaseline than any other single item in the list but that doesn’t mean there’s more vaseline than everything else in the list combined.

  35. theblackdog says:

    In other news, You need a heart to live.

  36. Trae says:

    @Ben Popken: Who buys aloe? Just keep a small aloe plant and cut off a piece whenever you need some. There’s your consumer tip. :P

  37. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Is it just me, or does the woman in that pic look like Pam from The Office?

  38. says:

    @pinkbunnyslippers: lols! yes!

  39. Mary says:

    I could have sworn it actually SAID that on the label somewhere, like “Ingredients in order of…” something.

    If not, then I have no idea where I learned this tidbit. I’m guessing my mom taught me. But I have mentioned it before and had people go “REALLY?” so it probably bears repeating.

    I gotta say, I use this knowledge often. But never on health care stuff. You want an eye opener, read the labels on your pet food. Stuff is not usually as advertised…and I never would have thought about it much until my cat turned out to be have a food allergy (fish of all things) and I started reading the ingredients religiously. It’s not pretty.

  40. Christopher says:


    Did you seriously just suggest that learning Spanish somehow makes it more difficult to learn other tasks, such as understanding ingredient labels?

  41. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    The one thing that really irks me is when I buy juice that is a blend of two juices. For instance, if I get cherry pomegranate, and the two juices are listed in that order, all I know is that cherry is at least half of the contents. Could be 99.99%, or 50.00001%. Not helpful!

  42. UpsetPanda says:

    So is 100% juice more like 85% juice? The sugar content in juice is so high usually that I want to juice my own fruit but it’s so expensive to get so little result. What has helped is diluting the juice, since it also usually tastes very sweet.

  43. yakuzamon says:

    if you’re looking for something sweet that is relatively healthy, look for products with real sugar in them, as opposed to high fructose corn syrup.

    sugar isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the amount and type matters. if you look further down on the nutrition label, the amount of sugar in the product will be listed in grams, under the total carbohydrate header.

  44. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    @MissJ: No, I was referring to a 100% juice mix, but not being able to tell if it’s a relatively even mix between the two ingredients (51% pear, 49% acai) or heavy on the first one (say 98% pear juice) and light on the second (say 2% acai)

  45. HungryGrrl says:

    @LTS!: It actually says “active ingredient: petroleum (41%)” no other ‘active’ ingredients are listed.

    @notallcompaniesarebad: I wonder why cranberry juice usually says a percentage (“37% Cranberry!”) and other juices don’t?

  46. Ben Popken says:

    @morsteen: We don’t really need comments like that.