Decoding a food label can sometimes feel like translating a foreign language. They’re full of unfamiliar words, measurements, shorthand references, and nutritional value statistics. If you’re lost when you turn over a food packet, you’re not alone. We asked our resident nutritionist Caroline Farrell for her top tips on decoding nutrition labels, here’s what she said:
Nutrition information is displayed using a “traffic light system”. The traffic light colours show how much energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt a food contains, and the grams of each in one serving. This is displayed as:
Nutrition tables and ingredients are usually found on the back of a pack. While this is useful, if you really want to eat healthily, here are my ten top things to watch out for on labels:
However, our individual requirements do vary depending on our physical activity, weight, body composition and individual health, such as whether we have conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
For example, most breakfasts cereal manufacturers define as portion as 30g. Most people’s portions would be considerably bigger than this.
This is because not all fats are unhealthy. For example, olive oil, nuts, and nut butters are all healthy foods that are high in monounsaturated fats. Also, try to avoid foods that contain trans-fats. These have been linked to several health conditions such as heart disease. These are often found in margarines, crackers, confectionery, cakes, biscuits and baked goods. Even if the ingredient label says it has zero grams of trans fats, it may still have small amounts. Therefore, you need to check the ingredients lists for terms such as “hydrogenated fats” or “hydrogenated vegetable oils”.
A good rule of thumb is to look for a food that contains about 7g protein per serving.
For example, gelatine is often used in sweets and yoghurts.
Ideally, aim for less than 6g per 100g. Watch out for foods high in hidden sugars. This is especially true for low-fat or fat-free products. A good example is low-fat flavoured yoghurt, as fat is often replaced with sugar to improve taste. There are over 50 different terms for sugar so it can be hard to spot on the ingredient list. Names to look out for include:
These often contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, NutraSweet, Splenda, sucralose, and sugar alcohols. Sweeteners can actually increase your hunger and disrupt your healthy gut bacteria.
Look for foods that contain 20g of fibre per 100g.
The longer the ingredient list, the more likely the food has been highly processed. Also, if the top three ingredients include sugar, refined grains or something you’ve never heard of before it’s probably best to avoid that food. Also, generally speaking, if you don’t recognise a word on the ingredients list it’s best to avoid that food.
We hope Caroline’s top 10 tips will help you decode future labels. If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy: 14 best ever natural cold remedies.
Subscribe to receive our latest posts in your inbox once a month!