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Confused by food labels? Let’s get clear!

If your new year’s resolution is to live a little healthier, you may have started paying more attention to food labels which can leave you confused. Here, we share our top tips on understanding what they really mean.

It’s the new year. You’re ready to make some health changes and like many others, your new year resolution may have you rethinking your shopping trolley contents.

The internet bombards us with recipes and healthy eating advice multiple times a day. So surely it must be easy to eat healthily?

Wrong! With more advice and food labels it has become more confusing to eat healthy. We see this in clinic every day, and it affects a wide range of people. Whether it’s acute or chronic health issues, sports nutritional needs, weight loss, weight gain or allergies, everyone struggles to not only find the right foods for their needs, but how to integrate them into their day, suit their budget and time constraints for shopping and cooking.

As Dietitians, we work with individuals to ensure they select the correct foods and nutrients optimal for their particular health issue or request. We also work with families to ensure they get value for money when they shop and that their kids will enjoy eating the same meals. A win-win in reducing the shopping bill and stopping the need to cook separate meals.

How can you be sure you are picking foods that are correct for you?

We know from The Institute of Grocery Distribution’s research since 2015 that many people are confused about how to use the information displayed on nutritional labels correctly. The main areas of confusion, in particular, are portion size information, reference intakes and colour coding.

As a general guide the front of label’s nutritional information can be helpful. Taking a particular food – like bread as an example – there can be numerous options to choose from. Some are low fat, some high fibre… What therefore do you need to consider when looking at labels of foods in general?

Using front of label information

1. Start with the colour background

All green and it should be a good choice in relation to the nutritional guidelines – HOWEVER…

My advice in addition to this is to always turn to the ingredients to check it is not loaded with artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes as this is a great way manufacturers can achieve all green. Some foods that fall into this amazing green light category can actually be chemical junk.

The goal: Choose foods that are unprocessed.

2. Know your portions

This detail can be very telling and misleading. A small cake may have the nutritional information available for a portion and doesn’t look too bad!

Think: supermarket coffee and walnut cake (400g). The portion info is for 1/6 of the cake or 68g. If you manage to keep to 1/6 of a slice then that’s fine but most people cut bigger portions and so the nutritional information then becomes meaningless.

Don’t just rely on portion measurements but take a look also at 100g measures. If your sugar value is below 5g per 100g then you are on the right track. For fibre push for 20g per 100g.

3. Checking the carbohydrates content is useful

It’s worth remembering that too high carbohydrates intake is converted to fat if over-eaten.

My advice is to check the total sugar and fibre content which makes this carbohydrate figure more meaningful. High fibre 20g/per 100g, low sugar 5g/100g is what you want to see.

4. Fat is very much in vogue

The media are all about fats at the minute. After being banished for three decades, fat is now back on the menu. Fat is found in various healthy and not so healthy forms. Watch out for the saturated fat content in processed foods and keep to below 5g per 100g or 5%. Palm oil, refined oils and processed vegetable oils are linked to inflammation, due to the chemicals used for extraction and production.

Many more factors are involved in selecting foods and using front of packet labels are helpful and a good starting point. Using common sense and checking the ingredients are also top priority. Remember the first ingredient on the list has the largest amount in the product and so on with the smallest amount of the ingredient last.

If you are still unsure about the foods you select or wish to know more about becoming healthy, please do email or call and we can assess your diet and lifestyle for free! A programme, if required, will then be created especially for you to achieve your health goals with ease and simplicity.

Information checked & correct on 16th May 2018.

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