How To Read The Label
How to read the label on the foods you buy and consume? Do you even know what they mean? … Do you know what you should be looking for within the ingredients and nutritional information table?
If you’ve answered no to any one or all of those questions then I really entice you to carry on reading this article on everything you NEED to know about reading food labels as well as how to pick the best food based on their labels for your goals; whether they may be based around trying to lose weight or just to maintain a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.
What is a nutritional information table?
To the left is an example of a typical nutritional information table. It shows the calorie (kcal) contend and amount of macronutrients in the food, and this is an example of a slice of bread. The column that is titled ‘100g contains’ explains the percentage (%) of each macronutrient per 100grams of bread. For example, if you look across to Carbohydrate it is shows 45.5g which can be said as 45.5% carbs therefore this food is high in starchy carbs. The next column along shows you ‘per serving’ thus as this is sliced bread it shows the nutrition per slice (44g), be careful when reading this column as many people can get swept away with the amount of calories it says are per serving and then find themselves eating double the serving as they have not weighed the food out or have not read what the serving amount is. Now the third column shows you the percentage of what each serving is in apparent to our ‘recommended daily intake’ (RI) – however remember if you’re trying to lose weight this RI is not the same for you so I would advice you not to take notice of that section.
How do I know the amount of starchy and sugar carbohydrates in my food?
For individuals that are trying to lose weight most of us know that the low carb diet usually works best therefore when you are trying to decrease your carbohydrate content we need to know how to look for the starchy and sugar carbohydrate content on the food label.
To the left is a nutritional information table showing the Total Carbohydrates per serving. These total carbohydrates are made up of dietary fibre, sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols), however you can see that these three do not add up to the total carbohydrate content and therefore the missing amount of carbs can be assumed to be starch in which we try to stay away from when on our low carb diet. Whenever the number of total carbs is high; for example under the ‘100g contains’ column if the total carbs is > 40grams (40%) then we need to put that food back down! We do all require slow release carbohydrates that don’t create a dramatic increase in hormonal response thus keeping blood glucose steady for hours; however we will only get these type of good carbohydrates from certain foods such as oats, quinoa, whole grains etc.
Additionally, in the UK we normally see dietary fibre as a separate column and not associated with carbohydrates however if you are following the ‘Atkins’ diet then you can take away the dietary fibre amount from the total starchy carb amount as these carbs are the healthy carbs for us. Now the sugars are the carbohydrates that add weight quickly as they promote a quick increase in blood glucose and hormonal response meaning if the sugars aren’t used up straight away they will be stored away in the liver and muscles and eventually stored as fat if not used. If you see ‘Sugar Alcohols (Polyols)’ on the nutritional table then this means the food has sweeteners in and are used to make the food artificially sweeter – thus the food is reduced in sugar and calories but can sometimes cause a similar effect in blood sugar levels to normal sugars.
It’s high in fat so it must be bad! … No!
The left table shows the nutritional information per 100g in ‘Whole earth’ peanut butter. As you can see the Fat content is 50.2% which would make most people’s eyes light up in shock and put the tub down; however if you look underneath it says ‘of which saturates’ and this means the amount/percentage of fat that is saturated – i.e. the BAD fats! If we look at this table out of the 50.2grams of fat only 9.0gram (9% of the food) is bad fat, now that seems a lot better than your original thought of 50.2% doesn’t it! The rest of the fat is made up of what we call unsaturated fat now this is the healthy fats that we naturally all need and that help to actually lower our cholesterol and are full of essential omega-3 oils that maintain a healthy heart. This peanut butter isn’t looking that bad now is it!
Along with the nutritional information table there will also be an ingredients list displaying what your food is made up of and sometimes the percentage of each ingredient. To the left you can see the ingredients for the hazelnut spread called Nutella. Now the first ingredient here is Sugar, this means it is the highest ingredient (highest %) found in the spread – and for us watching our carb intake this is a big no no so put it down! As you can also see they have put the percentage in brackets next to Hazelnuts, skim milk power and fat-reduced cocoa power, allowing us to see the exact amounts of the ingredients within the food. An important but clever trick you all need to know is that whatever is before the last ingredient means it is higher in percentage than the one before. For example, the ingredients shows the vegetable oil is before hazelnuts thus this means there is more than 13% of vegetable oil within the jar – but we are not told exactly how much and this is scary due to vegetable oil being high in bad fat!
We can use both the ingredients list and nutritional information table to tell us how good/bad the food is for us, whether or not we should be eating it and whether it will aid our weight loss or promote weight gain.
Brands aren’t always the best choice!
Take ‘Quaker’ for example, this is an ingredients list for ‘Oat so simple – Original Porridge’ and as you can see the quaker rolled oats only make up 70% of the ingredients list with the rest coming from skimmed milk powder as well as Sugar! This makes the macronutrients for carbohydrates 60.6% with 22.3% of the carbs coming from sugars, therefore we know these oats aren’t the best for us as 22.3% is sugar!
When I have oats (occasionally) I stick to Mornflake Oatmeal/ Oatbran which is 100% Oatbran which is milled to lower the carbohydrate percentage and increase the protein and fibre content! If you look to the right this is the nutritional information for Mornflake Oatbran and as you can see the carbohydrate is reduced to 47.3% with only 1.2% of which sugars! The fibre and protein content are high which is perfect therefore when choosing the ‘good’ carbohydrates that you need when you require to replenish your glycogen system (i.e. when you are focusing on cardiovascular workouts and/or on a low carb diet) these oats are one of the best and you should never be persuaded by a brand or logo just because their advertising seems to show their product off as ‘healthy’ as usually the supermarket brands are nutritionally better for us than the high flying ‘expensive’ brands due to the less added sugar and healthier ingredients that sometimes the cheaper alternatives offer.
Hopefully, that sums up nutritional information labels and ingredients lists for you to feel confident enough to choose your foods by reading the back on the pack that they are sold in! If you are completely stuck for where to start and what foods you should be eating then take a read of my recent blog on what you really should be eating.
This post was written by Hayley