Knowing how to read and interpret a food label is highly beneficial. It gives one an idea on how healthy a product is and it also allows you to calculate where it fits into your eating plan.
A food label will contain the total kilojoules, carbohydrates, protein and fat info on the label. It may have additional info like sodium and fiber as well.
The total kilojoules indicate the energy you will be taking in from all the nutrients in the product. If you are counting kilojoules then this info will help you to decide it the item fits into your kilojoule controlled plan.
Carbohydrates – at Easy Health Wellness clinic we focus & teach clients to learn about carbs and to count carb intake. A slice of bread is on average 15g of carbs. My advice to clients is to always use this as a benchmark when deciding whether to purchase the product or not. This also helps in adding the products carb content to the total amount of carbs recommend on your eating plan. This helps to add variety to your diet and enable to make changes and still continue to lose weight. E.g. a ready to eat pasta salad may have 60g carbs per 300g portion you eat – this is equivalent to 4 slices bread …so the fat may be low but the carbs are very high! (Remember you eat the whole portion not just 100g).
Fat – there should be a differentiation between the types of fat in the product. Saturated fats and Trans-fats are bad fats and should be in minimal amounts or not added at all to your product choice.
Monounsaturated fatty acids and Polyunsaturated fatty acids are healthy fats. The guideline that I find practical to work with is less than 10g of fat per 100g. A good example is nuts – they are high in good plant fat so they may have 50g of fat per 100g but we know that the type of fat is good. Limit frequency of intake to keep carbs and kilojoules controlled.
What if a product does not have a breakdown of nutrients?
Then you should look at the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in quantity from the most to the least in the product. Eg biscuits may be flour, butter, sugar, milk etc – Thus flour makes up the biggest ingredient added to the product. Tip – if flour, sugar, butter, syrup are in the top 3 then you are pretty much looking at a product that is high in sugar and saturated fat.
So next time you look at a food label make a decision on all the nutrients and not just low fat/ fat free numbers. They can be misleading as many products that are low fat can be high in carbs. This is not suitable for successful weight loss.
Enjoy reading labels on your next shopping trip! Time is limited so these basic guidelines should help make good decision.