Reading Food Labels

Reading food labels can be confusing at the best of times, but you don’t need a Food Science degree to work out what’s in your food if you follow some basic rules.

  1. Ignore the claims and boasts on the front of the pack. They are often covering up for something that’s missing, or trying to dress a crap food up as something healthier.
  2. Read the ingredients list. If it reads like something from a science lab, leave it on the shelf. If you recognise all the ingredients as something you might find in your kitchen cupboards, then you are safe enough.
  3. Have a look at the order of ingredients. If sugar is high on the list, think twice before popping it into your basket. Remember that sugar has many guises, so look out for healthy sounding ingredients like honey, molasses and maple syrup. Hydrolysed starch, modified starch, starch, carbohydrate, corn syrup, treacle, fruit syrup and anything ending in -ose (dextrose, glucose, fructose, sucralose, etc.) These ingredients are just sugar by another name.
  4. Take a look at the nutritional information and train your eye to check the sugar content before anything else. Go low – 5 g of sugar or less is low, so go low.
  5. Ignore the calorie content, as not all calories are created equally, While it is true that eating more than your fair share will have consequences for your waistline, it depends on where there calories com from. If they are predominately sugar, that is a surefire way if piling on the pounds, but if they are from fat and protein the changes are that food will leave you feeling fuller for longer, help your metabolism and not end up as your spare tyre, so calories are complicated. Keep things simple – think sugar, not calories!
  6. You can also work out the number of teaspoonfuls of sugar on a label by dividing the grams per portion size by 4, but remember that most of us don’t serve ourselves the portion size recommended by the manufacturer, and this can be another trick to make it look like the food is a healthy choice.
  7. Not all fats are bad, even the saturated sort. A good example is a bag of brazil nuts, You will find 68g fat per 100g, and about 7g of this is saturated fat. If you were just looking at fat and thinking fat=bad, then brazil nuts would not go anywhere near your shopping trolley,. but if you consider that this fat is essential for metabolism, skin health, inflammation balance and your immune system, you might think differently about brazil nuts.
  8. Take a look at the salt content. We should aim for a maximum of 6g per day and anything overLook at the figure for salt per 100g:
    • High is more than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium) per 100g.
    • Low is 0.3g salt (0.1g sodium) or less per 100g.
  9. Pick up a couple of versions of the same food. For example, 2 packs of biscuits, 2 yoghurts or 2 cereal packs and compare the labels. This is a simple way to compare products and make sure the healthier versions goes in your trolley.

Often your common sense will help you more than reading any food label. Is the food processed? Leave it on the shelf. Is is natural? Stick it in your trolley.

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