How to read food labels

I was surprised to discover how many people have no idea how to read food labels – although with Australia being one of the fattest countries in the world maybe I shouldn’t be. I was picking up a few things at the supermarket the other day and decide to take a look at a few items, and I began to see why people find it so complicated. Food manufactures together with marketers aren’t playing nicely – actually they are playing dirty tricks on consumers and it is people’s health and waist lines that are paying the price.

The ability to read and understand food labels is essential for making better food choices – if you are serious about your health or losing weight – you need to know what is in your food. I want to show you what to look out for on labels – so you can make better decisions about the foods you buy and eat.

First and foremost you need to stop looking at the front of the packet – this is where the marketing crew get creative and tell you all the good things about their product. Do any of these sound familiar; with the goodness of whole grains, 99% fat free, light or lite – meaning colour not calories – and my favourite is no artificial colours or flavours.  Just because this is true it doesn’t mean that the products are healthy – I could go on and on here, but I will save it for another day.

What you need to look at is the label at the side or back of the packaging it usually looks like this:
There are 2 parts to a food label, the first is the nutrition information – where the no. of / size of servings energy, protein, carbohydrates, fats etc can be found. The second is the ingredients list this is where we can find out what is in the product.

Starting from the top we have Servings per package – notice this says 3, this is important because the this relates to the quantity per serving references listed below, if you ate the whole tube of this yogurt you would need to multiply these numbers 3.  Check out the suggested serving on a can of Diet Coke and you see what I mean about dirty tricks.

Serving size– is next and it is the manufactures suggested serving size and all of the energy, protein etc in the quantity per serving is related to this size serving.  150g in this case, it is not exactly easy to measure your yogurt without the kitchen scales.

Energy – in you 150g serve you get 608kJ (or 145 calories). This is important if you are counting kilojoules (or calories). That is provided you are eating the suggested serving size or extremely good at maths.

Protein – The amount of protein – carbohydrates and fats – are extremely important if you are following a high protein low carb plan or any plan where need to know the macronutrient values – of protein, fat and carbs. This yogurt has 4.2g of protein in a serve.

Fat – is broken into 2 sections, total fat per serve (7.4g) and the amount of saturated fat (4.5g). Some products do list trans fats – which have been shown to be worse than saturated fats – if they are not listed you may need to look at the ingredients for any hydrogenated oils.

Carbohydrates- are also broken down into 2 sections, total carbohydrates and sugars – from this you can see exactly how much sugar is in the product and decide if you should be eating it. This yogurt’s total carbohydrate content is 18.6g and sugar is also 18.6g which means all of the carbohydrates in this product come from sugar!

Sodium – is salt by a different name, many people need to watch their sodium intake so finding out the amount of sodium in a product is important.

Calcium – we know calcium is important for mineral – for bone strength.  So the label tells us that by eating a 150mg serve of this product you get 300mg of calcium which is 38% of your daily recommended dietary intake.

Now we get down to the Ingredients – these are listed from highest quantity to least. So whole milk is the major ingredient, followed by concentrated skim milk and then sugar.  Strawberries are the 4th ingredient making up 9% of the product, gelatine and culture – to make the product yogurt and not just a strawberry milkshake – and not forgetting chemical thicken 1442.

Start to read labels – look at the amount of; sugar and fat, what preservatives, colours, flavours and numbers are listed – then decide if you really want to eat it. I personally hate that manufactures can list the numbers of artificial colours and preservatives instead of their name – it is blatantly deceitful.  By the way no: 1442’s real name is Hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate.

Lastly I want to share one of my little rules with you: If you can’t pronounce an ingredient on the label don’t eat it – it probably not good for you.

I hope this helps you.
–    Anthony

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