Food Industry

Nutrition 101: How to Read Food Labels

Food labels, by design, should be clear and concise. Sadly, they’re just downright confusing.

If it’s not odd portion sizes throwing off the traffic light system then it’s catchy buzzwords (GLUTEN FREE! LOW IN SUGAR!!) giving poor products ill-deserved ‘health halos’.

So, what should you be looking for next time you visit the supermarket? Let’s find out.

Actually read the ingredients list

Okay, it’s quicker to just read the fancy buzzwords on the front of packaging – but it often only tells half the story.

Instead, look at the small print. Ingredients are listed by volume, which means the first ingredient comprises the highest percentage of that product. And so on.

In this case, pay attention to the first five ingredients. Do you recognise them? Are they a wholesome choice? Could you find these ingredients in your kitchen? If the answer is ‘no’ to all three, you should put down the product and find a healthier alternative.

Be especially careful of sugar (and its 56 other names) cropping up in the first five ingredients. No wholefood should contain sugar as its main ingredient.

Pay attention to portion sizes

The traffic light system can be a great benefit for those watching what they eat. See a packet’s RDA emblazoned in red? Your natural instinct says to avoid. Well done. But what about the same packets which seem seraphic in their green glory? You might want to look at their comparable portion sizes.

This is identified on the front of the foodstuff, along with the percentage of salt, sugar and fat in the product. Let’s put this into perspective: a single serving of cereal is just 30g (around eight Shreddies). The same goes for crisps (this is just one-fifth of a sharing bag). You get the idea.

Don’t get hung up on calories

If you’re like the majority of people, you’ll likely use calories as your catch-all health benchmark. Overdone it with an extra five chunks of Galaxy chocolate? That’s an extra 130 calories you’ve scoffed. Easy. But how about foods which are high in calories, but also good for you?

Related: Why Counting Calories Breeds Poor Digestion

Products packed with healthy fats, like avocados and nuts, are extremely calorific (one avocado is around 320 calories). However, they are also incredibly satiating and chock-full of vitamins and minerals. In which case, an avocado or nuts would be a more wholesome choice than, say, a pasta pot or a bag of crisps – even if they are higher in total calories.

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