Reading the nutritional information on packaged foods can be overwhelming to say the least!
But it’s essential to know what’s actually in the food we’re eating if we’re to take control of our health.
In the U.S. you pretty much need a maths degree to figure a food label out. Australia and the UK have it slightly easier, but nutritional labels still aren’t exactly user-friendly.
Of course, food manufacturers like it that way. It keeps a little mystery around the stuff that’s being pumped into packages (and is particularly useful for food companies when it comes to how much sugar they’re cramming in).
Feeling confused about exactly how much of what is in that packet you just picked up off the supermarket shelf? We don’t blame you! Here are some key things to look out for.
Servings per package.
Serving sizes are determined by food companies, which is why they vary so widely from product to product. And why they often seem so small compared to how much you’ll really eat! If you’re likely to eat more than one suggested serving at once, remember to take that into account when determining how much sugar, fat, sodium and so on you’re actually consuming.
Sugars are included as part of total carbohydrates, as well as being listed separately. The amount includes naturally occurring sugars combined with added sugars. (Hint: products with “no added sugar” nutrition claims may actually contain high levels of “natural” sugars.)
Use “sugars per serve” to determine how many teaspoons are in a serving by dividing the figure by 4.2 (the number of grams in a teaspoon). So, if there’s 21g of sugar in a serve, that comes out to five teaspoons.
And if there’s two servings in, say, that bottle of apple juice or carton of chocolate milk, you’ll need to double the sugar to determine how much you’re really consuming. (Keep in mind that the WHO guidelines recommend no more than 6–9 teaspoons of “free sugars” per day.)
Fats are broken down into total fat, with saturated fats then listed separately.
Current science has essentially debunked the myth that fats – and particularly saturated fats – are the devil. Incorporating healthy fats into your daily diet is important for good health, and will also keep you satisfied for longer.
Plus, foods that have had fat removed from them (low-fat yoghurt and the like) are usually pumped full of sugar to make up for lost texture and flavour. Don’t rely on the package’s nutritional claims that “low-fat” is a good thing, and trust your appetite instead.
You can use this column to figure out what percentage of the product each item is. If a product has 33g sugar per 100g, for example, that product is 33 per cent sugar. Which is about one-third sugar in total (visualise that!). We recommend sticking to foods that are about 3-5 per cent sugar.
Be careful of sodium here, as this is often displayed in milligrams (mg). There are 1000 milligrams in a gram, so if you’re calculating this percentage you’ll have to divide the figure by 1000 first.
The easiest way to know exactly what you’re eating? Sticking to whole, unprocessed foods wherever possible – you don’t need to worry about confusing food labels when you just JERF instead!