The label on the foods we eat tell us absolutely everything that we need to know about that product. Learn to read it correctly and you can go from achieving decent results to achieving outstanding ones. I won’t patronise you by going over all of the basics, but just by taking a little more time to read the label you could do yourself the world of good.
The ingredients are the first things you need to take a look at on any pre-packaged food. It’s not really possible to stand in the supermarket Googling every ingredient you haven’t heard of, but it’s important to be aware of them. If you haven’t heard of an ingredient it has probably been put in to either extend the food’s shelf-life (preservative), or to change the taste (flavouring).
Another thing you need to look out for in the ingredients is sugar. The difficulty comes from the fact that there are over 40 different words they could use that mean sugar. What you need to keep in mind is that if any type of sugar is included in the first 3 ingredients on the list it’s technically a dessert. So if you make a brilliantly leafy-green salad that’s great, but if you go and cover it in a dressing that has sugar in its first 3 ingredients you’re essentially eating a dessert.
Foods that are high in fat aren’t necessarily disastrous for you. Good fats tend to come from plants, seeds and fish, whereas less healthy fats come from animals. Then there are trans fats. Simply put, you don’t want to eat any food that has any trans fats at all.
The way food labeling works is that there will always be a set value for reference, usually 100g or 100ml, as well as a suggested serving. The serving suggestion is often less than what any normal human being would eat, so the ‘per 100g’ is the best thing to consider. High fat is defined as anything over 17.5g per 100g and low fat is anything under 3g per 100g, according to the NHS. You also want to minimise your intake of saturated fats, with anything over 5g per 100g.
Carbs are broken down into sugars and starches on the food label. The majority of the food you intake should be made up of carbohydrates, so don’t be afraid if this number seems a lot higher than the others on the label. Generally though you want to be making sure that the carbs in your food are made up by a lot more starches than sugars, but there are exceptions. The NHS defines foods high in sugar as those containing more than 22.5g per 100g, and low sugar foods as containing 5g per 100g or less.
Let me guess, the part of the food label you read first, right? Other than the fact that your muscles will only use a certain amount of the protein you take in, there isn’t really an amount of protein you should avoid exceeding. Don’t forget, for every pound you weigh you need a minimum of 1g of protein, e.g. if you weigh 200lbs you need 200g of protein.
Here are the other things to look for:
- Recommended intake (RI)/Recommended daily allowance (RDA)
Be careful when considering the RDA of different nutrients! If you live by those percentages you’re assuming you can only consume 2000 calories a day, and what’s more you will only be getting the minimum amount of each nutrient you need to be healthy, not what you necessarily need to reach your goals.
One more thing to consider:
‘Low-fat’, ‘high fibre’ etc. These phrases usually have no legal definitions, so just because the label says it doesn’t mean this food is great for you. Just take a little bit more time to consider everything on the label so that you are getting all the nutrients you need, and avoiding the ones you don’t.