UNDERSTAND FOOD LABELS LIKE A NUTRITIONIST
Eating healthy is confusing sometimes. There are hundreds of popular diets on offer (Paleo, Keto, Plant-based) and we’re bombarded with advice from experts on the daily (limit your intake of red meat, avoid gluten free unless you’re coeliac, try not to eat an entire cheeseboard on the weekend…)
On top of that, there is the nutrition label; the scary chart on the back of our packaged food that reveals just how healthy it really is.
Although this chart (and the accompanying list of ingredients) can seem daunting, it’s actually the one thing that gives us the control. Unlike the varying diets and expert advice, nutrition labels give it to us straight, with the numbers and percentages right there in black and white.
To help us navigate the world of food labels, we caught up with CORE+ member and Accredited Practising Dietitian, Natassja Billich. Arm yourself with her knowledge ahead of your next grocery shop!
First up, why is it so important to read food labels when we go shopping?
In a nutshell, if you can understand a food label, then you can easily compare products and pick the healthiest options. They’re also really important if you are allergic or intolerant to any foods.
Pre-packaged food can make some pretty big claims… What should we watch out for?
Be careful of health claims on the front of the label such as “all natural” or “fat free”. Just because the front of the pack claims the product is great, doesn’t mean it is!
Do we need to read ingredients lists and nutritional labels? What is the difference?
Ingredients lists state every single ingredient that is within the food/drink. Nutrition labels break down these ingredients even further to tell you the amount of calories/kilojoules and nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein.
OK, someone is completely new to reading food labels. What is your process for reading through one?
Nutrition labels are always separated into “per serve” and “per 100g”. “Per 100g” is useful to compare similar products e.g. two types of cereals. “Per serve” is good to know exactly what you are eating, but only if you stick to the recommended serving size!
What are the key things we should be looking for, and which parts do we not need to worry about so much?
Everything is important depending on what you’re looking for! If you really want to know what’s in the product, go straight to the back and skip the health claims on the front.
What are some key things to look out for when trying to choose healthy foods?
Make sure you can recognise everything on the ingredients list and the shorter the list the better – this way you are choosing the most natural foods.
Can you give any final secret weapon tips to make the whole thing easier?
Look out for products with less than 10g of saturated fat, 10g sugar and 120mg sodium per 100g, and more than 3g fibre per serve.
Got a trick that helps you choose the healthiest option in the supermarket aisle? Share it with us via the CORE+ Facebook page.