Have you ever thought about your diet and understanding food labels? Many of us are taking more time to think about what we eat. Whether we’re calorie counting, reducing our sugar intake or cutting out allergens, lots of us are taking more time in the supermarket to actually read the labels on our food. The nutrition label on the back of your food can help you to lose weight, improve your health, avoid allergic reactions and better fuel your body. However, there’s a lot of information there to decipher and it can be confusing. Here’s what you should be looking at on those labels.
One: Read The Ingredients List
Most pre-packaged food will have an ingredients list on the packaging. Everything that is in the food will be listed in weight order, from the largest amounts to the smallest. If the first few ingredients include things like cream, butter or cheese, this tells you the food is high in saturated fats. Sugar, syrups or concentrated fruit juices show the food is high in sugar.
Ingredients further down the list are in smaller quantities, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. For example, vitamins and minerals added to breakfast cereals are still enough to be useful, whereas even a small amount of salt in a portion of food can contribute a lot to recommended daily allowance.
Food companies are sometimes sneaky about the words they use. For example, many lists will use terms like ‘glucose’ or ‘fructose’. This is still sugar, so don’t be caught out if you’re trying to avoid certain things for health reasons.
Two: Check The Nutritional Information
The easiest way to compare the nutritional value of the ingredients in your food is to compare them in the per 100g column, rather than the per portion column. This is easier to tell if the differences are down to the actual content in the product rather than the portion size.
The main values you should be paying attention to are total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. These are values that have the biggest impact on your weight and blood pressure. You can use other values, like unsaturated fats and fiber, to make healthier choices.
Three: Don’t Worry About Calories
Calories are measures of energy in the food. There are many guidelines for how many calories should be eating a day, but in reality, these numbers vary a lot depending on a number of factors including age, gender, height, weight and activity level.
Most of us don’t need to calorie count all the time, and some studies in fact suggest that food label calories are inaccurate. Instead, use this calorie count on the package to give you a rough idea of what is high and low calorie so you can make the right choice for the amount of energy you need.
Four: Understand The Different Types Of Fat
Many of us think we should avoid all fats, but this is actually not true. What we should be staying away from is saturated fats, which can be found in foods like butter, fatty meats, cakes and pastry. Saturated fat in large quantities can increase your cholesterol level, increasing your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fat, in foods like nuts, oily fish and avocado, is better for you. You shouldn’t go overboard with it, but in small amounts, it can be good for healthy skin and hair. The nutrition label should show the different amounts of each type.
Five: Be Wary Of Claims Of Reduced-Fat
It might seem strange, but a reduced or low-fat version of a product isn’t always the healthiest option. Fat gives food flavor, so if the manufacturer takes it out, they have to add something else to make it taste good. This is often sugar, which means the product is just as bad for you as it would be if it was full-fat. In some cases, salt is added, so check the salt content too. In many cases, the full-fat version in a small amount is better and will be more satisfying to eat.
Six: Know How To Spot Sugar
Manufacturers know that a lot of us are trying to eat less processed sugar. Sugars are added to food for lots of reasons, such as preserving and flavouring. To be able to keep adding it without putting it off, some products will disguise the sugar under a different name in the ingredients list. These names include honey, syrup, nectar, molasses, glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose and fruit juice concentrate. If one of these words is near the top of the list, the food is high in sugar.