Food Labels: the good, the bad and the confusing
Sifting through supermarket shelves can be a minefield with thousands of food products claiming they’re the best option for a healthy lifestyle. The following tips can help you navigate food labels and choose foods that will support health and exercise, whilst keeping your sanity intact.
Step 1. At a glance labels
A good place to start is with traffic light labels that can be found on the front of packaging. They are a quick guide to determining if a product is low (green), medium (orange) or high (red) in calories, salts, sugars, total fats and saturates (one type of fat that should be consumed in moderation). As a general rule the greener the label the healthier the food or drink. So put red labelled products back on the shelf or have as occasional treats.
Be wary when choosing foods based on the ‘low fat’ or ‘0% fat’ label. Fat is largely responsible for making our food delicious, so when this is removed larger quantities of refined sugars are often added to replace the taste. Look at the nutritionals on reverse packaging to get the full story.
Step 2. Are you average?
Some products provide reference intake percentages, indicating how much of a certain nutrient contributes to daily energy (calories) intake. Although a useful indication, these guidelines are based on the requirements of an ‘average’ female undertaking ‘average’ activity. If you’re active and exercise regularly you will most likely require a greater amount of nutrients to support training. Bear this in mind when deciphering how much of a certain food you will need per day.
Step 3. Look at the back
When you have two products and you’re not sure which is the healthiest option look at the reverse pack nutritionals to compare. These labels give a better idea of what’s in the product by breaking down nutrients into subcategories, e.g. fat can be broken down into saturates etc.
When comparing products use the ‘per 100 g/ml’ column as many foods will have a different portion or serving values. But how do you know if a food/drink is high in fat, sugar or salt? Take a snapshot of the nutritional guidelines below to make comparing products a breeze.
It can be easy to overindulge on healthy foods eating far more than the recommended portion size stated on the nutritional label. Before you know it the nutritionals have trebled and your innocent healthy snack is no longer. Next time you measure out a bowl of cereal see how much you typically eat and how this augments the nutritionals. Double the serving = double the nutrients.