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Do food labels drive you crazy ?

April 15, 2018

Saturated fats ? Reference intake ?!? Pass me some aspirin, will you ? Let's just order on Deliveroo tonight !

For a lot of busy women, a weekly visit to the local farmers' market sounds like an impossible dream.  The supermarket around the corner is quite often the handiest option but the whole grocery shopping experience is not always a walk in the park :  you painfully navigate your trolley ( that one with a wobbly wheel) up and down crowded aisles, then you go stand in the queue forever, and finally hump your goods to your car and drive back home physically and mentally drained. Have you ever wished this whole process could be a smooth and peaceful experience of 30 minutes tops ? 

 

In reality, one of the reasons we spend so much time in the supermarket is that we sometimes struggle to understand food labels. They just look like gibberish, don't they ? Well, keep reading my friends, it will all make sense in a bit.  Nowadays most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back of the packaging. They display energy in kilojoules (kJ) or kilocalories (kcal) -commonly referred to as calories,  protein, carbohydrate, fat (of which saturates, coming from animal source ), sugars, sodium, salt and fibre ( see below).

But how do you know what is too much and what is good enough ? The following guidelines from  NHS  will help you understand when foods are high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar :

  • Total fat

High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g

Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g

  • Saturated fat ( women are not recommended to have more than 20g / day)

High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g

Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g

  • Sugars

High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g

Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

 

A quick note here : I will talk about sugar in another blog but for now just know that sugar comes in many disguises : honey, nectar, molasses, fructose, fruit juice concentrate etc...

  • Salt

High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)

Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

 

Also, the ingredients list shows the components in weight order from biggest to the smallest. Makes sense ? So if you are trying to cut down on salt or sugar now you know what to do !

 

And now a quick tip that was a game changer for me. As most big producers want to improve your grocery shopping experience, they display color-coded nutritional information on the front of pre-packed foods : red for high, amber for medium and green for low (see below). Aha ! This might help shorten your time spent scrutinizing food labels.

To know whether a particular product fits into your daily diet, manufacturers also display reference intakes (RI) on the label. RIs should not always be taken at face value though as everyone has different energy requirements. In this example above, each portion provides 34 grams of sugars, which represents 38 % of your RI for sugars. So drop that package already !  

 

These tips should be a good start towards making more informed decisions especially when hesitating between two similar products. The rule is to aim for mostly greens and ambers, and fewer reds ( and don't forget to pick up fresh produce too :)

 

Hopefully these guidelines will make your next shopping trip much shorter and much more pleasant than the last one. In any case, remember that no trip to the supermarket is complete without a fair amount of drama, so just embrace it :) 

 

Your Coach,

 

Amani

 

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