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Be informed: Why reading food labels is so important

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Be informed: Why reading food labels is so important

I never used to read the food labels when I went grocery shopping, but recently I have begun to do it more often.

I have become more aware of what I eat, and I would like to know what ingredients are in products that go into my body. I am trying to make healthier food choices; to choose products with lower fat and sugar content.

FOOD LABELS CAN BE MISLEADING

I discovered that some displayed labels on products can be misleading. One obvious example would be some sugary cereal brand that claims they are a healthy breakfast option when they are not.

Since many people are beginning to read labels, the food manufactures have become clever by using different names or placing the ingredient further down on the list provided. One ingredient I look out for is sugar. I also noticed that no added sugar doesn’t necessarily mean a low sugar content in the product.

A FEW DIFFERENT NAMES FOR SUGAR

  • sugar, cane sugar or raw sugar
  • corn syrup
  • dextrose
  • fructose, glucose, glucose syrup, lactose, maltose
  • maltodextrin
  • treacle, golden syrup
  • invert sugar
  • honey

THE INGREDIENTS LIST

When looking at the ingredients list, it always lists according to weight. So, the ingredients found most in the product will be at the top of the list. This is then followed by ingredients that are in smaller amounts. Take note of the first three ingredients, since these will be what make up the majority of the product. Be aware of the unhealthier ingredients.

We have had a look at sugar, but also be aware of bad fats and salt. Flavourings and colourants, which are represented by various letters and numbers like E511, are also not very good for you.

BAD FATS ON AN INGREDIENT LIST:

  • trans fats
  • animal and beef fat
  • butter
  • hydrogenated oils and palm oil
  • lard, margarine, and vegetable fat
  • milk solids
  • monoglycerides
  • lard and shortening

SALT ON AN INGREDIENT LIST:

  • salt or sodium
  • baking soda
  • MSG
  • nitrates and nitrites

UNDERSTANDING THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE TABLE

The table on a food product gives you the amount of each ingredient, so you can then see if the product is a healthy option. There are usually two columns — one shows you per 100g and the other is per serving. I usually just glance at the 100g column as it is easier to judge the amount in general. I mainly check to see how much saturated fat, sugar, and sodium a product contains. I sometimes like to compare brands to see which one has a lower percentage of these ingredients.

When it comes to things like margarine or peanut butter, I also like to look out for the heart mark from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. These products are usually lower in sugar, fats and salts if you compare them to similar products.

EAT MORE WHOLE FOODS

Boxed or package foods and processed foods are a part of our lives and most of us are going to purchase and consume them. But these foods should be kept to a minimum and our diets should include less processed foods and more whole foods.

Our diets should include more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as healthier choices. Eat less sugary breakfast and white bread. You can exchange these with a healthy bowl of muesli with fruit and move to whole grain bread.

Making healthier food choices is important in today’s fast-paced world, where fast foods and soda drinks seem to dominate. By doing something as simple as reading a label, it can be the first step to a healthier you.

-the South-African

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