Food label cheat sheet
I am a food label reader. I like to know what and how much is in the food I am eating. I am sure that most people want to know what they are eating, but when faced with the information on a food label, their brain flies into a spin, trying to understand the information presented there.
While I quite enjoy spending an hour at the grocery store, looking at new products and reading the labels, I understand that most people would rather make this task as quick and painless as possible! So, here is the food label cheat sheet!
Food labels are mandatory on all food packaging to provide information about the nutritional content of the food inside the package. All food manufacturers are required by law to provide specific information about the food you are buying to help you make informed decisions.
All of the ingredients that are used to make a food product must be listed on the label. The ingredients are listed in descending order according of mass. So, the ingredient that is listed first is present in the highest amount and the one listed last is present in the smallest amount. If you are watching your sugar intake, make sure that sugar is not one of the first 3 ingredients listed. Likewise, if you are trying to limit your fat intake, make sure that fatty ingredients are listed lower down on the list of ingredients.
The typical nutrition information should be listed per 100g of product and per serving. You will need to determine how much you are going to be eating - just one or two biscuits, or the whole packet (for example). The recommended serving size will also be evident on the label.
The energy values can be listed as kilojoules (kJ) or Calories (kCal). The number of calories you eat is determined by whether the food you are buying is intended as a main meal or a snack. The energy content of a main meal should be about 1500 – 1800 kJ (360 – 430 Cal) for women and 1800 – 2200 kJ (430 – 520 Cal) for men.
Protein is listed in grams. The protein content of a main meal should be between 21g (women) and 35g (men).
The carbohydrate content is also listed in grams. Both the total amount of carbohydrate and the amount present in the form of sugar is listed. A main meal should provide between 15g and 30g of low GI carbohydrate. Try to keep sugar to less than 2g per 100g or less.
Glycaemic carbohydrate = the amount of carbohydrate available for metabolism
As sugar = the amount of carbohydrate present in the form of sugar
There is a lot of detail required for the fat content! You will find the total amount of fat in the product as well as the breakdown of the type of fats that contribute to the total: saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. If any of the ingredients used to make the product contain cholesterol, the cholesterol content will also be listed here. If you are watching how much fat you eat, try to keep the fat content to less than 5g per 100g of food. Aim to consume foods that contain less saturated fat and more unsaturated fats.
The fibre content is listed to help us ensure that we eat the recommended 25g to 30g per day (not an easy task!).
Salt is listed as sodium. Since it is important for us to limit the amount of sodium we eat on a daily basis, we need the sodium content of food products to be relatively low. Aim for less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food.
Vitamins and Minerals
The micronutrients will be listed if there is a significant amount present in the food.
Reading through what I have just written, I realise that this is a rather dry topic! It is an important one to come to grips with, though. Going back to my sugar display for wellness days, I am always amazed at how many people are surprised by the sugar content of the foods we eat, sometimes on a daily basis. What about all of the other nutrients and ingredients? We need to be aware!
See you in the shopping aisles!