Be Shopping Savvy: Nutrition Labelling Decoded

As I mentioned earlier, I have a plan and planning is what prevents these little ‘hiccups’ from turning into full blown pig out sessions that last for days and days! To be honest, I am lucky. I have spent nearly five years at university studying nutrition. This allows me to walk into any supermarket and make informed food choices after just a glance at the ingredient list. I can only imagine how confusing it can be if you didn’t have my screening tool.

Making matters worse, apart from the words fat, carbohydrate, sugar and protein, there’s also fibre and sodium to be considered. Where does one even begin to make sense of this information? What’s important? What’s not?

The good news is that you don’t need to be an expert in nutrition to decode the nutrition fact table. All you need is this simple nutrition screening tool which I am about to reveal. Remember this and soon you’ll realise what’s ‘belly’ or ‘heart’ friendly and what’s not.

Ingredient List

You may have noticed that every packaged food item has an ingredient list, but what you may not know is that all ingredients are listed in descending order. This means that heavier ingredients are listed first.

It should come as no surprise to you that high fat or high sugar foods may have vegetable fats, oils or sugar listed as their first three ingredients.

Let’s have a look at an easter egg as an example. Ingredients are typically milk chocolate which is made from (1) milk (likely whole milk); (2) second ingredient is sugar and (3) third ingredient being cocoa butter. This particular egg also contains cocoa mass and vegetable fat, sugar, glucose syrup, dried egg white and flavouring. Would you now be surprised if I told you that this easter egg is a high fat and sugar product that should only be enjoyed as a treat; and not as an everyday snack?

Still not convinced? Then let’s apply a simple screening tool.

Screening tool

Any product that exceeds 10g of fat, 15g of sugar and less than 5g fibre per 100g of food is not what I like to call ‘an everyday food’. If you still don’t know what I am talking about, refer to the back of the packaging and look closely at the table called nutrition information. Follow the column titled ‘Per 100g’.

Going back to the example of the easter egg, per 100g, it contains 15.7% fat (over the upper limit of 10g/100g), 64.2% sugar (well over the cut-off of 15g/100g) and very little fibre at 0.4g (less than 5g/100g).

I am not saying don’t eat easter eggs, but you may want to think twice before reaching for the third or fourth.

For more articles and tips for screening food products, refer to

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