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Understanding Food Labels

I often get asked what should I be eating? And how much should I be eating? Well if I told you there is actually no right or wrong answer as everyone will be completely different and have their own individual requirements. However, understanding where you are getting your nutrients and energy from is a great way to see what impact the food and drink you consume has on your overall health and wellbeing.

One of the most important skills you can master is to understand what a food label is telling you and figure out exactly what you are getting from your food. Now take a packet of something out of the cupboard right now and have a look at the back of the packet.....what do you notice.....confusing right! Well let’s look at this in alittle more detail.

Serving Size

Pay close attention to this. Many people think that a small packet of something is the serving, but this might not be the case. What you will probably see on the back of a food pack is a per 100g and a per serving. So something like a tin of soup which is 400g, a serving size would be ½ a can, so 200g.... how many of you would consume the full tin thinking it was one serving!

Calories, Fats, Protein and Carbohydrates

As with all food labels you will get 2 values, you’ll see a per serving and a per 100g. Calories will be shown in two forms KJ and Kcal. We are interested in the Kcals (calories) as this is the amount of calories we will be consuming from the food.

Carbohydrates tell you how much sugars you are getting from the food you eat and will probably be broken down in various different forms such as carbohydrates, of which sugars and fibres. This can be misleading as it is not telling you where the sugar is coming from, it could be natural sugar but you will not know this until you read the ingredients list. For example a cereal bar has little added sugar but contains raisins, the sugar content may look high but in fact this comes from a natural source.

Fats are probably one of the most confusing for many. Should you eat as little as possible? Or do you need to eat more good fats? Well the answer lies somewhere in the middle. You want to consume the correct amount of fats your body requires for your specific goal, and you want to consume the healthiest forms of fat. Regardless of the type of fat, fats all contain the same amount of calories, the difference is how our bodies will use and breakdown the fats. Healthier fats are a better source of energy and many of these healthy fats have other nutritional properties.

Fats are generally classified as saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated, dependant on predominant fatty acid it contains. Generally saturated fats can be found in animal products like meat and cheese, as well as hydrogenated vegetable oils and tend to raise blood cholesterol levels, these should be consumed in small to moderated amounts. Hydrogenated oil (which is hard at room temperature), produces trans-fatty acids, which also raise blood cholesterol so should be avoided.

Polyunsaturated fats can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fats, this is dependent on whether it contains Omega-6 or Omega -3 fats. Small amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 are classed as ‘essential’ meaning our bodies can’t make them, we can get these from plant products.

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil and avocado, and are classed as ‘healthy fats’. We should be consuming them in moderation.

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

You will sometimes see RDA on food labels. These values are standard values used as part of the government guidelines, and allow you to compare the amount of nutrients in the food against the recommendation for the day. These should be used as a guideline and not be seen as an exact recommendation because these figures can vary dependant on age, gender, activity level and many other factors.

Things to consider when looking at food labels

  • Generally for every 5 grams of fat equates to a teaspoon.

  • Every 4 grams of sugar equates to a teaspoon. So a tin of soup has around 9.8grams per serving, that’s around 2.2 teaspoons of sugar per serving, so a whole tin will have 4.5 teaspoons!

  • Check the fat content of food and look at where the fat comes from. Generally our diets are very high in Omega-6 but lack Omega-3.

  • Look at the per 100g and the portion size, you will probably find the portion size is completely different to the per 100g.

  • Look at the ingredients list. The first 3 ingredients should all be natural sources.

  • The more ingredients a product has the more things it had added to it, pick foods with small ingredient lists.

  • Be aware of added sugars ( please read our article surrounded by sugar)

So whilst food labels can be confusing I hope we have managed to breakdown some of the confusion and help we have given you a better understanding of them. It’s worth noting that most foods are not ‘bad’ foods, it’s the quantity and quality of the food we consume that is the issue. Foods that are nearer to their natural source have a high nutritional value and less things added to them meaning they are generally healthier for you. Visit our website for all our articles or contact us via email for more information or to book in for your FREE consultation.

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