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Reading Food Labels

Reading Food Labels

An important part of choosing healthy, nutritious food suitable to specific dietary requirements is knowing how to read food labels.  Unfortunately labels have their own language, and it is not always easy separating fact from fiction.  The best starting point is learning how to decipher what a manufacturer has to tell you, as opposed to the information they volunteer in order to convince you to buy!

Ingredients Listing

All manufacturers are required to list their ingredients in descending order according to their relative proportion by weight.  Although by no means an exact measure, this list will give you an indication of the relative amounts of the different ingredients that make up the food.  Be aware, that some manufacturers will use several different kinds of sugar (e.g. Fructose, lactose, maltose, molasses, treacle, golden syrup, icing sugar, honey) or fat (e.g. shortening, vegetable fat, vegetable oil, beef fat, butter, margarine, cocoa butter, canola oil and milk solids) so that each one will be present in a smaller proportion and will not be seen to be the major ingredient in the product.

Salt & Sugar Content

The body’s needs for sodium are estimated at 920 to 2300 milligrams per day.  However, the average person takes in 10 to 20 times as much salt as is required, much of which comes from processed foods.  The true name for salt is sodium chloride and ingredient lists may clarify salt under either title.  If a nutrition panel is present it is possible to estimate the amount of salt in a product by looking at the sodium content.  Be aware of hidden salt in processed foods.  For example, a vegemite sandwich provides approx. 480 milligrams of sodium, of which only 150 comes from the vegemite and the rest from the processed bread and margarine.

To find out the sugar content of a food, refer to the total sugar figure listed on the label.  Adults should aim to take in about 5% to 10% or less of their kilojoules from sugar.  For an average female this would be approximately 25 to 45 grams, and 30 to 60 grams for an average male per day.

Misleading Claims

A food classified, as low fat must not contain more than 3 grams total fat per 100 grams.  If classified as fat-free the food must not contain more than .15g total fat per 100g of product.  Do not be tricked into believing that foods claiming to be low in cholesterol are also low in fat.  Cholesterol is a type of fat from animal sources such as meat and eggs.  A product such as olive oil, made from vegetable sources, may make the claim no cholesterol, but it is still 100% fat.  Also be cautious of claims such as 95% fat free this equates to 5 g of fat per 100 g of the product, but if the actual serving size is 500 g, then you are still taking in a total of 25 g of fat.

Gluten Free

If a product claims to be gluten free the nutritional analysis should indicate NIL.  Finally be careful purchasing already baked products that all ingredients are clearly listed.  For more extensive information about acceptable 
ingredients if you are following a gluten free diet got

Article submitted by Kumara Lord (BED,MHN)

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