Reading food Labels

Food shopping can be overwhelming, especially if your feeding a family, and doing your best to make healthy choices. Supermarkets bombard us with products claiming that they are 'natural' 'high fibre' 'low fat' 'added vitamin C' ''no added sugar' etc. It can be a minefield, so we often choose the big brands - for bigger £ or get sucked in by the latest marketing tactic such as 'gluten free or vegan'. But often these foods are not actually better for us. So what should we be looking for?

Ingredients list 
The ingredients that go into making a food need to be listed on the packet. However if an ingredient makes up less than 5% of the food it does NOT have to be listed. ( With the exception of allergens or additives that have got to be listed despite quantity.) When you are looking at the ingredients, they will be listed in descending order based on percentage of quantity.
As you can see below - cereals makes up the largest percentage, followed by oats, whole rye, date paste, sunflower oil, nuts etc.  

Cereals(67%)(Wholegrain Barley Flakes{28%}, Oats{24%}, Whole Rye{14%}, Wheat Flour, Oat Flour), Date Paste, Sunflower Oil, Nuts(5%)(Cashew, Almonds), Banana Puree, Coconut(2%), Natural Flavourings, Barley Malt Extract, Salt.

A general rule of thumb is that if there is an ingredient that you don't recognise as a 'food' or it sounds like a scientific chemical, best to leave it on the shelf. 

Nutrition Information
ENERGY1882kJ 847kJ(10)
 449kcal 202kcal
FAT18g 8.1g(12)
of which saturates1.9g 0.9g(4)
of which are sugars12g 5.4g(6)
FIBRE8.5g 3.8g 
PROTEIN8.5g 3.8g 
SALT0.2g 0.09g(2)

*Reference intake of an average adult (8400 kJ/2000 kcal)

We have come a long way from believing that fats are bad ( I have written a post all about fats) But the type of fats we eat are important. The main thing to know about fats is that you should be looking at no more than 2-3g of saturated fats per 100g. So in the example above the saturated fat content is 1.9g per 100g. 

Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source, so to avoid carbohydrates is not only unnecessary but can negatively impact your health. Carbohydrates can be complex ( meaning that they are broken down over a longer period of time, keeping energy levels stable ) or simple ( when the sugars are broken down quickly and give you an instant energy spike. You can work out the amount of complex carbohydrates in a food by subtracting the amount of sugars ( 5.4g) from the total amount of carbohydrates (27g) In the example above 21.6g of carbohydrates are slow releasing meaning you are less likely to experience an energy high, then crash.

When it comes to protein we are aiming to get around 15-20g protein per meal/snack. The above granola contains 3.8g protein per portion. If you had a portion with 1 cup full fat greek yogurt & 1 tbsp of mixed nuts you would be having a good amount of protein.

Now lets look at a well known brand that is marketed as a 'better for you' option.

 Kind Bars -The front states 'Gluten free', 'Dairy free', 'High fibre' - sounds pretty healthy right?
                                   KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts  Sea Salt Bar
KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Bar is a sweet and salty blend of almonds, peanuts, walnuts and a sprinkle of sea salt, bound together with a touch of honey and drizzled in chocolate. So according to the above this bar includes, nuts, sea salt, honey and chocolate, but if you actually look at the back there are lots of additional 'ingredients' included:

Ingredients: Mixed nuts (60%) (*almonds*, *peanuts*, *walnuts*), dark chocolate flavoured coating (18%) (palm kernel oil, chicory root fibre, sugar, cocoa powder, emulsifier (*soy* lecithin), natural flavouring, salt), chicory root fibre, honey, glucose syrup, rice flour, cocoa mass, sea salt (1%), emulsifier (*soy* lecithin), sugar.

So what are some of these other ingredients that are listed? 

Chicory root fibre, & soy lecithin are emulsifiers that are added as a bulking agent. They are cheap to manufacture, help keep the product low calorie without comprising size. However in large doses they can contribute to bloating, gas, loose stools, and abdominal pain ( especially if you suffer with any digestive issues)
Natural flavourings - Many people think 'natural' means healthy, however it is not defined by the FDA so is over used. Have you ever heard of castoreum? Its the discharge from the sex glands of beavers and is added to food as a 'vanilla' flavour, often found in ice creams, yogurts and sweets. So technically it is 'NATURAL' therefore FDA approved. Other natural flavourings can include insects parts, boiled beetles, rodent hairs, goat stomach, and arsenic. 
Glucose syrup  is a concentrated form of glucose, which contains no protein or fats so causes a rapid rise in blood sugars. Highly concentrated forms of sugar can lead to obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure. 

NOTE: I am not saying to never consume foods that contain these ingredients ( they are in lots of things). My purpose is to educate you to make informed choices. I believe it is everybody's right to know what they are putting in their bodies. so my take away message would be to check the ingredients on the foods that you buy and don't just fall for the 'big words' labelled on the front. Remember the company wants you to buy the product so will use words/phrases that they know you want to see even if it is misleading. Check that it contains lower amounts of saturated fats & free sugars and higher amounts of protein, complex carbs and EFA. 

I also want to say that everyone is on their own health journey. If these bars have helped you stop eating junk food then thats amazing. My goal is not to judge, but to help you move forward where ever you are on your journey. 

If you would like me to send you my supermarket shopping list of my favourite must have items, please send me a message to sign up to my exclusive newsletter. 

Love H x