How you ever scanned the label on a box of cereal or tub of yoghurt and wondered what all the terms actually mean? You’re not alone – they can be incredibly confusing! Diabetic Living dietitian Lisa Urquhart explains how to decode food labels to help you make the best choices at the supermarket for your health, diabetes and waistline.
What are you REALLY eating?
Ingredients in packaged foods are listed in order of weight, so the bulk of the food is made up of the first few ingredients listed. If these are fat, sugars or salt, that food might not be the healthiest choice. These lists also include additives you might want to avoid, as well as ingredients that may contain common allergens (crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, sesame seeds, sulphites and gluten from wheat, rye, barley or oats).
Making sense of the nutrition panel
This panel usually has two columns: a ‘per serve’ analysis and a ‘per 100g or 100ml’ breakdown, which makes it easier to compare products. Manufacturers choose the serving size, which may help you to decide how much of the product you should eat. It’s good to keep in mind, however, that serving sizes can vary widely from brand to brand. The ‘per serve’ analysis may also help you to count carbs, if this is part of your diabetes management plan.
As a general rule, try to buy products that fit the following guidelines*:
· Fat: Less than 10g total fat per 100g, with saturated fat less than 2g per 100g. (Exceptions: Hard cheeses, nuts and unsaturated oils.)
· Sodium (salt): Less than 120mg sodium per 100g. (Exceptions: Bread and stock – look for the lowest sodium options.)
· Sugars: Less than 15g per 100g. (Exceptions: In foods containing dried fruit, aim for 25g or less per 100g.)
· Fibre: More than 7.5g fibre per 100g. Exceptions: (Foods that do not contain fibre, such as dairy products.)
· Kilojoules: The number of kilojoules per serve and per 100g is also listed, indicating whether the food is high or low in energy. Keep in mind: Energy requirements vary from person to person, so speak with your GP, dietitian or diabetes educator about your individual needs.
* These guidelines may not work with your nutritional plan or needs, so check with your dietitian or diabetes educator first to see if they are suitable for you.
Quick shopping tips
1. Before hitting the supermarket, write out a shopping list, and stick to it once you’re there – that will cut down on impulse buying.
2. Don't shop hungry! Having a rumbling tummy at the supermarket can cause you to buy more food in general, and more high-kilojoule food in particular. So make sure you’re satiated before a big shop.
3. Shop seasonally. When a fruit or vegetable is in season, they are typically less expensive, and more nutritious as they have spent less time in cold storage.