Food Labels 101 – What to Look For
Ever been confused by all the different information on a food label? You’re not alone. But using a few little tricks, you can assess which foods are fine to consume regularly and which are best for a treat.
The people who design food packages will use the front to pull you in. You’ll often find health claims like gluten-free, organic, no added sugar.
But often these claims can be deceiving. They might be based on the serving size, which is significantly smaller than how much the average person would eat. It might to distract from the less healthy features – it might say no added sugar but may be full of artificial sweeteners. Or if it claims to be high in a nutrient, that nutrient might not be naturally found in the food but is added during processing.
Instead of looking at the front of the package, head straight to the back for the facts.
Check the order of the ingredient list
An ingredient list will be listed in descending order. The first ingredient is present in the greatest amount, and the last ingredient is found in the least amount.
Whenever possible, you want food labels to have wholefoods as at least the top 2-3 ingredients. But you don’t want anything like sugar or syrup in those first few ingredients.
For example, on this food label for a popular barbeque sauce you will notice that the most abundant ingredient is tomatoes followed by sugar, then water, thickeners etc. The least amount of ingredient is onion.
Minimise additives and numbers
The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to have multiple additives. Additives can include preservatives, sweeteners, colours, flavours, stabilisers, emulsifiers… the list goes on. Sometimes they will be listed as a chemical name such as sodium nitrite, an additive used in processed meats and gives it the characteristic pink colour (e.g. ham) and sometimes listed simply as its 3-digit number 250.
Some additives are fairly harmless, so don’t panic over any food that has one or two additives. But it’s best to avoid the foods that have more additives than food ingredients you recognise!
For a complete list of food additives and ingredients that may be best to avoid you can download an app here: https://chemicalmaze.com/product/chemical-maze-complete-edition/
If in doubt, aim for 5 ingredients or less
An easy rule of thumb to apply for most foods is picking foods that have 5 or less ingredients. Foods that have dozens of ingredients are usually highly processed, making them less than ideal.
There are a few exceptions to the rule, but if you follow it at least 80% of the time, you’ll minimise your intake of additives and other nasties.
Figure out the percentage
Want an easy way to figure out the percentage of macronutrients? This is where the nutritional panel can come in handy.
Go to the per 100g or per 100ml column. This will tell you the percentage of each nutrient. So, if it’s 30g of sugar per 100g, it’s 30% sugar! In most cases I would look for 10% or less sugar and keep it all to a minimum.
Where possible prepare food from wholefoods, and thus avoid unnecessary additives.
Knowing what is in food is only the first step. Knowing what’s right for your body is the key. Call Davina on 0416016388 or book online https://www.lapachamamanaturalhealth.com.au/ for a free 15-minute “Discover and Connect” appointment to understand how I can help