Food labels can be really confusing - I'm going to try and break things down a bit in this article!
Firstly, read the ingredients list:
Everything is listed on the ingredients list, in weight order from the biggest to the smallest. If the first ingredients are things like sugar and syrups then they will make up the largest proportion of the food item that you've selected.
Ingredients further down the list will be in smaller quantities, but can still make an impact e.g., added vitamins, minerals, even artificial flavours/sweeteners.
Check out the nutrition information:
When looking at the nutrition information section, the most important ones to look for include total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt - those are the main four that might impact negatively on our health in terms longer-term health implications. You can also look at the protein, fibre and unsaturated fats on the labels to help inform you about making choices that support your health (e.g. Fibre: If a product contains three or more grams of fibre, it’s considered a good source. Foods with five grams or more are excellent sources of fibre (dependent on portion size, of course!).
Check recommended portion sizes:
It might be worth checking and seeing if your portion size matches the recommended portion size on the package, to see if you are overeating calories in terms of certain products. Oftentimes the recommended portion is actually far smaller than you think!
Look at the type of fat, and how much:
Look at whether the fat is saturated or unsaturated. We get unsaturated fat from things like avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish which can be better for our health than the saturated fat found in things like pastries, biscuits, cakes, processed foods.
You can look at the nutrition information per 100g to see whether the fat content is high, medium or low:
Low fat: 3g or less per 100g
High fat: 17.5g or more per 100g
Low saturated fat: 1.5g or less per 100g
High saturated fat: 5g or more per 100g
Avoid Trans Fats completely: these types of fats go through a chemical process, which turns them from liquid to solid and can negatively impact on our health and cholesterol. You can also check for them in the ingredients list under "partially hydrogenated oils".
Sugar – what to look out for:
Sugar or so called “free” sugar can appear in the ingredient list under other names, not just sugar - things like honey, syrup, corn syrup, nectar, rice syrup, molasses, fructose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, even fruit juice concentrate. Look at the section of the label under Carbohydrates called "of which sugars".
Low sugar: 5g or less per 100g
High sugar: 22.5g or more per 100g
Look at the salt content
We find salt in quite a lot of places, including processed foods where you might not even necessarily taste the salt - things like cakes, biscuits .etc. It’s always best to check the label!
We are recommended max 6g/day – which is only around a teaspoon.
Note that some products label “sodium” instead of salt. In this case, we need to multiply the sodium amount by 2.5 to work out how much salt there is.
Low salt : 0.3g or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium, or 100mg sodium)
High salt: 1.5g or more per 100g (or 0.6g sodium, or 600mg sodium)
Lastly, avoid or limit these ingredients which can be harmful for our health:
White refined flours in grain products
MSG (found in many products, to enhance flavour)
Nitrates and nitrites (often found in meat products, like bacon)
Hint: What you can’t pronounce or haven’t heard of, might be best to stay away from or at least check on Google what it actually is and if you want to put it in your body!
If you need more guidance about making healthy choices, then reach out to me and book your free 30-minute Nutrition MOT:
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Amy Cottrell Nutrition does not claim to prevent, treat or cure any physical, mental or emotional conditions. These blog articles are written for educational & informational purposes only and are not a subsitute for medical advice.
Do not stop or start taking medication or supplements without first talking to your primary health care provider.