Food labels can provide useful information about the food we eat. But there are so many products on our supermarket shelves, choosing the right foods can be quite challenging. Learning how to read food labels correctly is the one of the first steps to making healthy food choices.
The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, from highest to lowest. For example, a 'healthy' apricot bar might read:
Dried apricot, glucose syrup, cane sugar, coconut, wheat starch, vegetable oil.
The second and third ingredients of this apricot bar are added sugars. That means that after apricot, the most prevalent ingredient is sugar! Perhaps that bar isn't so healthy after all.
When looking at the nutrition information of a food product, it is important to observe the fat, sugar and salt content. Some products will even have these displayed on the front of the packaging as part of the 'health star rating'.
Fat: Look for the type of fat. Saturated fats have previously been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. There are different names for saturated fats including; vegetable shortening, milk solids, tallow, lard, beer fat, animal fat, palm oil, vegetable oil.
Sugar: Sugar can be present in many forms including; sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, dextrose, honey, corn syrup, golden syrup, maple syrup, treacle, molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, icing sugar.
Salt: Another one to keep an eye on. Salt can be; sodium, MSG, sodium bicarbonate, baking powder, sea salt, rock salt, celtic salt, vegetable salt, garlic salt, celery salt, onion salt, brine, stock cubes, meat/yeast extract, booster.
So you're probably thinking "Great, all my favourite foods have one or another form of fat, salt and sugar!". But don't throw out your pantry just yet. You don't have to completely avoid these ingredients, just be mindful of them.
I like to use the following guide when choosing my groceries:
- Total fat - Less than 10g per 100g
- Saturated fat - Less than 3g per 100g
- Sugar - Less than 15g* per 100g (*fruit based products are an exception)
- Salt (Sodium) - Less than 120mg per 100g
So get out there, look at the nutrition labels of the food you're eating and start educating yourself.