Reading the labels on the food products we buy can be a bit of a minefield and leave you with more questions than answers!
❓ What does reduced fat and low fat actually mean?
❓ Okay, so there’s no added sugar but why does the sugar content still look high?
❓ This says it contains no artificial sweeteners or additives, it must be healthy?
It is essential that we understand what’s in our food in order to make an informed choice. Many foods that are marketed as a healthy option often aren’t that good for you once you’ve looked at the ingredients.
Here are a few tips to help you understand what’s in your food:
🔍 Have a quick look at the ingredients list, the items are usually listed in weight order so if the first ingredient is sugar, concentrated fruit juices, syrups, oil/fat, butter or anything else high in saturated fat then these make up the biggest proportion of the food. The product may have ‘no added sugar’ but it might be made from fruit, dried fruit or other products with natural sugars that can bump the sugar content up. Although it’s natural sugars if it is in a processed food its still important to limit.
⚖ Don’t just look at the calories as not all calories are created equal! The food could be high in calories but also full of healthy nutrients, just be mindful of portion sizes. The guidelines for a man are 2500kcals and for a woman 2000kcals a day.
🚦 The traffic light system is handy as a quick indicator but remember this is usually based on the recommended portion size so just make sure that if this is less than you would normally eat you are aware how much sugar, fat, calories, salt is in the amount you consume.
🍭 If you want to compare two products looks at the table that says per 100g:Sugar
- High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
- Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
- High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
- Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
- High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
- Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
- High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
- Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
⚠ It is especially important to check the labels on food products that claim to be low fat/fat-free/reduced fat as these aren’t always the healthier option with some having added sugars or salt as a replacement. We know that fat helps to fill us up and control hunger and so it could be better having a smaller portion of the full fat version rather than going for the low fat. If a product claims to be light/reduced fat it means that it is at least 30% lower in kcals or fat than the original product.
Once you get used to looking at the labels it becomes second nature and you’ll be surprised by how many foods that ‘look’ healthy from the packaging, marketing, nutrition claims and so on, actually aren’t. That’s not to say that you can’t eat these foods occasionally but at least when you do you know what’s in it! Making an informed choice about the foods that we eat is so important and gives us control over our diet and lifestyle!
Disclaimer: Apologies, it may take you a lot longer to do your food shop 😊
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