What to look for when reading food labels?

On a day to day basis we are constantly bombarded with information; from advertisers to health providers. Information telling us what we should do, where we should go, what we should eat, what we should buy. We have instant access to information at the tips of our fingers. With this information overload, how can we know what information to use to our benefit and which is superfluous?

In terms of food, information overload can be a problem when choosing something that may appear from its packaging to be healthy, when in actual fact it isn’t as good for you as you might think.

In recent years, a clear and informative ‘traffic light’ food labelling system has been introduced in a bid to make it easier to understand the food that we are eating. This system tells us about the amount of calories and fat that is contained in the product, how much of that fat is saturated and salt levels.

Food labels are also clearer with regards to the ingredients contained within the product, which makes it easier and safer for people with allergies to eat!

Besides the obvious safety issues for people with allergies, why is it important to know about these nutritional content of our food? If you are trying to lose weight, watching your salt intake, or simply watching what you eat then food labels can help you do this more easily. This helps you to make an informed choice about the food you eat.

The traffic light system does this by using colour codes associated with the level of each nutrient;

  • Green means that it is low in that particular nutrient according to the Food Standards Agency recommendations. Foods with green lights are the healthiest choices.
  • Orange means that there are medium amounts and these foods are fine to eat most of the time.
  • Red indicates a high amount and should only be eaten occasionally.

This system tends to look at specific nutrients that are important to your health, which are;

  • Fat content – these are often identified in term of the three types, Saturated (associated with high cholesterol and heart disease), Unsaturated (can help improve cholesterol levels), and Trans fats (also raises cholesterol levels in a similar way to Saturates).
  • Salt – also known as sodium. Too much can lead to high blood pressure which is itself associated with coronary heart disease. The recommended daily amount of salt for an adult is approximately 1 teaspoon.
  • Sugar – Too much can lead to weight gain.
  • Fibre – Fibre can help prevent some conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. It can also be good in limiting weight gain and can help with overall digestive health.
  • Calories – Two measurements of calories are displayed, kilocalories (kcal) and kilojoules (kj). Eating more energy that you use leads to weight gain.

Knowing what to look for and how to use that information can help you to bypass any misleading concepts being thrown at you from the retailers and marketers.

So it really can help to arm yourself with these key bits of information!

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