How do you make smart choices if you do not fully understand what your buying!
Before we begin why don’t you pop to your cupboard or fridge and grab a few items! Have a look at them whilst we cover this topic.
Most people when reading labels will have a quick look at the calories to see if its high or low, but I want to make sure you get the full picture.
Lets start with a few facts about packaging. We know that food packaging is a huge marketing industry but the packaging also tells us a lot about what we are eating. For example photos of food/ingredients can only be shown on the product if its actually in the food. So if a yogurt shows an illustrated strawberry on its label its likely to just have strawberry flavouring, whereas if there is a photo of an actual strawberry then there has to be real ones in it! The same goes for the name! It must not be misleading. Smoky bacon flavoured crisps do not need to contain bacon, where as if the word flavour is not written then it must contain the ingredient listed. The label must also tell you the process of cooking like smoked, dried, baked or fried. Ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight so have a quick look at the first 3 and make sure its actually food you want to eat! now
I understand that all this seems like a lot of faff when you just want to whip around the shop and get home, but try to read the odd product label that you are buying. With a bit of practice you will be able to bypass the fancy packaging and see what you’re actually purchasing!
When It comes to reading nutrition labels on food thankfully lots of food manufacturers now use a traffic light system, Green for desirable or Choose often, Amber for neutral or good choice, red for undesirable or on occasion. This can be so useful when you look at food. Unfortunately this is not law so many companies don’t use it, worse then that several now make their food labels in a green shade to trick you into thinking that they are a great choice! They also show a percentage which can be handy for looking at your daily intake.
In the first box is Energy/Kcal be careful here! if it looks low calorie have a quick look at the serving size. Is it for half or quarter of the pack? or with cereal a measly 25/30g portion? (I eat around 40/45g of cereal!) Serving size used by manufacturers is often unrealistically small as this allows them to record lower calories on its labels.
Next listed is Fat as a rule of thumb women want no more then 70gs of fat a day and men 90gs. but realistically who wants to work out their fat levels every day. So this one is not a figure I linger on as the first and third box gives me a better picture of what I’m buying.
The 3rd box is Saturates. We will go into fats in another blog but saturated fat comes from meat and dairy, butter and cheese as well as coconut oil and palm oils. Its normally solid at room temperature!
Now the 4th box in my opinion is the most important along with the first! Sugar! now we all know that we should cut back on sugar and that its pretty rubbish for teeth but I’m interested in it from a diet point of view. Now some of you may have noticed that low calorie products can be really high in sugar and visa versa. The important thing that you need to understand about sugar is that it makes you hungry! it gives you instant satisfaction then drops you quickly the other side making you want more! have a little think about this. You finish your super healthy avocado and chopped tomatoes on wholegrain toast, then have a low fat 75kcal yogurt but it has 11g (over 2 teaspoons!) of sugar in it. Half an hour later you are peckish and rummaging in the cupboard for a biscuit as you fancy something sweet! clever thing sugar! keeps you coming back for more. Please try to break the cycle, you will feel so much better for it. try to keep your sugar below 6/7g grams with your snacks. The snack will work so much better for you. I will be taking about sugar more in my next blog.
The final box is salt. Again many of us know that we should cut this back. It improves the taste of food so is nowadays added to almost everything. The problem with this is it can cause high blood pressure! the recommended daily limit is 6g! a teaspoon is 5g!!!
Here are a few more facts for you to sink your teeth into:
Low Fat– Has to be less then 3gs of fat per 100g
Food labelled as Light – Must be at least 30% lower in calories or fat then standard products
Organic – Must have 95% organic ingredients
No added sugar – No extra sugar was added. It does not mean that there is no sugar or is not a high sugar product. Artificial sugars can be used in these products along with natural sugars from milk and fruit.
Farm fresh – Meaningless with no legal definition!
Low fat – Must contain less then 3g of fat per 100g
Unsweetened – No added sugar or sweetener. can contain products with natural sugars.
Fat free – Contains less than 0.15g fat per 100g
Reduced salt – Must contain less then 0.5g sodium per 100g
Ok so its a lot to take in and remember but please start to have a little look at the food packaging you buy. Little changes and swaps can equal huge results. When it comes to giving people the tools to understand diet and make changes to benefit themselves and their families being able to read food and drink packaging is vital. Have a look in your cupboards you may be surprised at what you find!