Eating mostly unprocessed foods is the absolute ideal but when modern life gets in the way and we need to grab something convenient, it’s really important to be reading labels and knowing what to look out for.
Let’s start with ingredients.
Ingredients are listed in descending order of amount found in the food. So, for instance, if you see sugar in the first few ingredients you know there’s a fair amount of it and you should probably put it back on the shelf! Choose the product which has the smallest quantity of ingredients, the least e-numbers and as many ingredients that you can recognise or pronounce (except quinoa, you should eat quinoa)
Certain catch phrases can be quite deceptive when it comes to labelling foods. “Sugar free” or “no added sugar” can be deceptive. It will usually mean that the food is free of sucrose but other types of sugar such as fructose, high fructose corn syrup, malt extract may still be present. These can still have the same negative impact on your blood sugar levels so make sure you check the label! Sarah Wilson from I Quit Sugar suggests you divide the sugar content per 100g by 4 to determine how many teaspoons of sugar there are per serve. For instance, if your yogurt contains 16g of sugar per 100g, you are consuming 4 teaspoons of sugar with each serve! Look for less than 6g per 100g.
There is often the perception that “Gluten free” or “low fat” equals healthy. Often in processed foods, when something is removed, something else like sugar replaces it for flavour.
Light or “lite” may refer to being light in colour, flavour, texture, taste or fat content of the food. It does not necessarily mean it’s a healthy or low fat choice.
National Heart Foundation Tick. This clever marketing tool was developed by the National Heart Foundation, the “Pick the Tick” campaign is well recognised as a guide for choosing heart foundation endorsed products. The campaign is voluntary and companies pay money to display the tick on their packaging. To be approved to carry the tick the products must meet strict criteria for the fat, salt, sugar and fibre contents but not necessarily their ingredients. Although it may carry some merit in some cases, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best choice as they can still contain many additives and e numbers, lack fibre and essential nutrients or be highly processed.
In a nutshell, look for real, whole ingredients like what you would find in homemade foods- just like Grandma used to make! And don’t be tempted to calorie count, nutrient density is much more important.
Some tips for food shopping.
Additive alert, originally a book by Julie Eady and now a convenient app, is an excellent little guide to have while shopping to determine all those tricky e-numbers and their potential health risks. Plan your meals for the week before going shopping so you know exactly what ingredients you need, minimising wastage and preventing all those annoying little in-between shops. A great rule of thumb is to “shop the perimeter” meaning to mainly shop the fruit and veg section and avoid the aisles of processed, packaged foods.
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