Let’s talk about food labels.
Have you ever picked up a product, looked at the food label and was left more confused?
What’s with all the rows and columns of numbers? Serving sizes? Per 100g? And what’s with the long list of ingredients?!
You’re not alone. I’ve been there, and I know how you feel! In order for us to make smart choices about our food and to know what we’re feeding our bodies with, we need to be savvy about nutrition.
Here are some tools to help you navigate and decode food labels and nutrition information.
The FIRST thing to look at is the ingredients list. Instead of jumping straight to the calorie content, let’s focus of examining the QUALITY.
A low calorie product may very well be filled with junk, and you certainly do not want to feed your body with that!
Quick scan: This will only take 10 seconds of your time.
- Length of Ingredients List
Ideally, the shorter the ingredients list, the better! A long list with codes and numbers usually means that the food is filled with artificial flavourings and colourings, sugars, and highly processed fats and oils.
- Top 3 Ingredients
The first 3 ingredients are important as the list is in order of its quantity, from the highest to the lowest. If the first ingredient is SUGAR, it means that most of that product is just sugar.
- Mumbo Jumbo Words
If you cannot pronounce most of the words on the product, put it back!
Nutrition Information Panel
- Servings per Package
This tells you how many servings you can get from the product.
The product in the picture says 2 servings. So, if you drink the whole bottle, you will have to multiply the nutrition information section under “per serve” by 2.
It is important to know the servings per package because the nutrition information panel provides information PER SERVE and not the WHOLE product (unless the serving size is 1).
When it comes to beverages, you are more likely to assume that the whole bottle is 1 serve.
*Also note that serving sizes are determined by MANUFACTURERS. They are not regulated and not based on the standard serving sizes found in dietary guidelines*
- per 100g or 100ml
Use this if you want to compare between products. According to labelling guidelines, ideally you should look out for:
- < 15g of Sugar per 100g
- > 3g of Fibre per 100g
- < 400mg (good) per 100g of Sodium or < 120mg (best) per 100g
Health Claims and Product Description
The food industry LOVES using buzz words like “organic”, “superfood”, “gluten free”, “all natural”, “no added sugars”, “wholegrains”, “low fat”, “good source of X” and the list goes on.
Here are some examples and what they mean:
- Reduced Fat
This claim means that the product has less fat than the original product of the SAME BRAND (at least 25% less fat to make this claim). One brand’s reduced fat does not mean that it is lower in fat than another brand’s regular fat product.
- Low Fat
The food (any brand) does not contain more than 3g of fat per 100g.
- All Natural
A product claiming to be “all natural” is very misleading as there are no regulations for making this claim. Funny how natural products do not need to mention that their product is “all natural”.
This gives you a lot of hints as to why marketers feel the need to use this claim to help sell their products. READ the ingredients list and the nutrition information.
- No Added Sugar/Natural Sugars/Sugar Free/Less Sugar
It is easy to associate light/lite with health. BUT this claim can mean that the product is low fat, low calorie or it may just mean that the product is light in TASTE, COLOUR or TEXTURE!
For example, light rye just means that the colour is lighter than dark rye.
- Baked Not Fried
Baked goods definitely sound healthier than FRIED but may very well contain highly processed vegetable oils and fats.
- Gluten Free
Products with the word “free” tend to sound more appealing/healthier. This applies to gluten free products as well. MORE and MORE products are claiming that they are gluten free.
Are they healthier?
Unless you have coeliac disease or are intolerant, the simple answer is NO! Sometimes, it can be the total opposite!
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and some grains like oat and rye. In cooking, it helps the dough to rise and contributes to its texture.
When you remove gluten, the food can become less palatable. As such, food manufacturers may add a lot of SUGAR and ADDITIVES to make up for it.
If you do not have issues with gluten, you do not need to go for gluten free products!
Knowledge about food and food products is POWER! This helps you to make INFORMED choices.
Let me know if you have any questions!