Navigating your way around the supermarket in search for healthy foods can be a mission in light of today’s ever increasing product choice! We can easily be lured towards a product for their flashy design or clever tag lines.
To save you from waving the flag of defeat, feeling confused and overwhelmed by the tiny type covering your product of choice, here are some tips on reading labels and what to look for:
Ingredients of the selected product must appear in descending order. For example if you are buying almond milk, the first ingredient will usually be filtered water followed by ‘almonds.’ If you are buying a product such as almond milk and ‘almonds’ appear towards the end of the ingredient list, it’s a quick way to tell this product may not well represent almond milk.
Reviewing the ingredients panel also allows you to see the exact type of oil, sweeteners, preservatives, colouring and flavouring added. For example, if purchasing hummus, you can see if vegetable or olive oil has been used. If you see hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated fats/oils it may mean trans-fatty acids have been used. Overall, this information is critical to help you make the best decision towards health.
The nutrition panel provides a guide of serving size, kilojoule/calorie, fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamin, mineral and fibre content. Most nutrition panels will list the serving size alongside a standard 100g serve, to aid product comparison.
Sugars: sugar content falls under carbohydrates on the nutrition panel. Always opt for less than 10g of sugar per 100g serving of a product. For example, if purchasing yoghurt, look for one which has no more than 10g of sugar per 100g of yoghurt. Most will sit around 4-6g of sugar per 100g.
Fibre: if a product contains an adequate amount of fibre, it will be listed on the nutrition panel. A good source of fibre must have at least 4g fibre per serve and an excellent source is 7g per serve of food.
Fat: the fat column provides total, saturated and any other type of fat content. Try to pick products with no more than 1.5g per 100g of trans-fatty acids and saturated fats. If a product makes a claim about omega-3 content, the nutrition panel must list the amount of omega-3 per serve and per 100g.
Sodium: If you following a low-sodium diet or are trying to limit added sodium looking over the sodium content is important. As a guide: less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of product is low, more than 400mg per 100g is high and anything above 1,000mg per 100g is very high.
Some products are marketed towards specific nutrition claims and a certain target audience, for example:
Gluten free: the food must not contain detectable gluten, oats, or oat products. A Low gluten claim means no more than 20mg gluten per 100g of food.
Glycaemic index: low is 55 or below, medium is at least 56 and does not exceed 69 and high is 70 or above.
Low Sugar: the food contains no more than 5g of sugar per 100g of solid food and 2.5g per 100ml of liquid food.
Vitamin and Minerals (not including potassium and sodium): to make a claim for a good source of a certain vitamin, for example vitamin C, a serving of the food must contain no less than 25% of the RDI of vitamin C.
Calcium: for a claim that a certain product is a good source of calcium, which may have an impact on bone mineral density, the food must contain no less than 200mg of calcium per serve.
As you can see, labels on food products are not just there for show, they can tell a wealth of information about the product. Strict regulations control what must be included on a label and what sort of health claims can be made. Next time you are at the shop, I encourage you to take some time to read labels before buying food. Putting into practice the above will help you make the best decisions for your health and the health of your family.