An easy guide to understanding ingredient and nutrition labels

Food labels and nutritional guides aka those lists of long, hard to pronounce words on the back of food packaging! The best way to be certain your eating healthy nutritious food is to avoid prepackaged and processed foods wherever you can however if you are reaching for these items here’s a guide to understanding those labels so you know exactly what your getting.

I mentioned in a previous post about supermarket shopping that as a general rule you shouldn’t buy foods with ingredients a 5th grader can’t pronounce and if you want to keep things simple than this is probably the number one golden rule.

Processed food in a nut shell is transforming simple/ natural food products into another form. This can be as simple as snap frozen vegetables or as complex as completely altering a food such a potatoes into a bag of salt and vinegar flavoured crisps.

The more a food is altered the more chemicals and sugars have been added, meaning less actual food and less nutrients for your body to absorb.

So here’s some things to look out for…

Sugar: The amount of sugar listed per serve can be deceiving because it doesn’t always account for all types of sugars. This is how certain brands manage to get a 3 or 4 star health rating for their products when it should really be 1 or 2 stars. Ideally the sugar content should be under 15 grams per serving and be low in added/alternative sugars.

Alternative sugars that are not always included on the nutritional label are: dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, corn syrup and agave. Check for these products in the ingredients list and remember that the higher up in the list they are the greater amount of that ingredient has been used in the food.

Fats: avoiding fats was all the rage in the 80’s and 90’s which lead to fat free foods that contained way too much sugar. Fats aren’t all bad and our bodies desperately need adequate fats to support cell growth, lower blood pressure, store energy etc. fat intake should be limited to under 10 grams per serve.

The fats we should be avoiding are saturated and trans fats, these are associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and clogged arteries.

Sodium foods with less than 120 grams per 100 gram serving is best when looking at sodium. Sodium is important in food because it’s a natural preservative, stimulates nerve impulses in our bodies, helps with muscle movements and helps control blood pressure and blood volume. Too much salt though can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, calcium loss and stroke. When checking the serving size of sodium also make sure to check for these ingredients: baking powder, celery or garlic salt, meat/yeast extract, msg, sodium ascorbate, sodium bicarbonate, stock cubes and sodium nitrite/ nitrate as these may provide added salt that is not included under sodium in the nutritional guide.

Additives – Along with these essential nutrients additives are in most foods you find on the shelves and there are a few that you should check the ingredients list for and avoid whenever possible:

mono sodium glutamate (msg) it’s a flavour enhancer and can cause sensitivities in people such as nausea.

Sodium nitrite prevents bacteria growth and stabilises the colour and flavour of meats and has been linked to increased risk of pancreatic and colorectal cancers.

Sulfites – Sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfites, sodium bulsifite and sodium sulfite. These are preservatives that can aggravate asthma.

Trans fats hydrogenated oils that lengthen the shelf life of food and has been linked to a risk of heart disease.

Artificial colours used in confectionery and some breakfast cereals and can aggravate asthma.

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