READ ME: How to read a food label

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(Please note I am based in Ireland therefore the below blog posts primarily applies to EU food labelling)

First things first….ideally we’d all be eating whole foods all the time but we all know that sometimes that isnt always possible.

So how do you make the best possible decisions when it comes to picking up processed foods and how do you navigate the absolute maze that is food labels.

I give you some tips to help you do just that.

Firstly all information must be given by 100g by law and is usually also given by a serving size.

 A serving size is completely objective though and its really important to consider if this is an actual serving size for you for example a serving size of Nutella according to the label is a tablespoon (if you are that self restrained please message me and let me know!)

Look out for claims. Often we don’t make it past the front of a packet and are led to buying decisions by simply reading the claims on the front.

Claims are often led by fashions so right now its very common to see claims such as “high in protein” or “high in fibre”. 

 A product can be classified as being “high in fibre” if it has 6g of fibre per 100g and can be classified as a “source of fibre” if it has only 3g of fibre per 100g.     

Considering we need 25-30g of fibre per day you can see how you could be easily misled to believe there is a lot more fibre in these products than you would think. Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains beans and pulses are still the best way to meet your daily fibre requirements.  

Similarly a product can be called “high in protein” if it has 20% of its calories from protein which means 80% of it isn’t protein.

A product can be called a “source of protein” if it has at least 12% of its calories from protein.  With this logic it means something like bread which is predominantly a carbohydrate could be called a “source of protein”.

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Looking at food labels can be daunting and who has the time to analyse absolutely everything you put into your basket but a few things you can do are the following:

-       Look for the number of ingredients – the less the better.

-       Avoid items that have ingredients you can’t pronounce. If you can’t pronounce it your body probably isn’t going to be too good at digesting it.

-       Look out for hidden sugars. Food manufacturers have had to get a lot more inventive about how they label sugar and its not very often you will see plain old sugar on a food label.

-       A teaspoon of sugar is 4g and we should be aiming to minimize sugar as much as possible.  On a food label this is marked as “carbohydrates of which sugars” so for example if this says 12g per serving there are 3 teaspoons of sugar in it per serving size.  Sugar is often called:

o   Words ending in “ose” (Sucrose, Maltose, Glucose, Fructose)

o   Words that have “syrup” in them

o   Coconut, agave, rice bran, date (These may have some nutritional benefit BUT are still sugar and will be broken down by the body in the same way)

 I’d love to know what you find confusing about food labels. Let me know if you have any specific questions you’d like answered when it comes to them

Thanks for reading!

Lauren

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Lauren Healy