How to Read Food Labels
They say it takes a single moment of inspiration to create your New Year's Resolutions and a grand total of ten days to break them.
Good planning will help you stick to your promises to kick the sugar habit, stop drinking booze, eat less (or smarter) carbs, go organic, lose weight generally, or simply get fit BUT you also need to be well informed- and knowing exactly how to read food labels is a huge part of that.
Even most nutritionists and dietitians I know get confused by all the whizz-bang, weird and wonderful ingredients on labels these days and that’s before we even get to understanding how much sugar (yes even the ‘natural’ kind) is too much.
Here are our top tips and general things to look out for when it comes to reading food labels.
Look at the Percentage (100g), not the Serve
When you’re checking food labels you should always look at the per 100g column (i.e. the percentage), NOT the per serving column because the serving size is determined by the manufacturer and therefore not consistent. Recently I noticed Special K (which I don’t recommend at all) had a serving size of 30g... measure that out and see how much that actually is, it’s tiny!
Check the Sugar
When it comes to sugar, you’re ideally looking for products with around 5g or less per 100g but in reality, so long as it has single digits (less than 10g), you’re doing OK. Make sure most of that sugar is coming from natural ingredients like nuts (yep, there's a bit of sugar in nuts) or dried fruit, rather than added sugars like syrups or even just sugar. There's nothing wrong with dried fruit in moderation, but we prefer to avoid it in our products to keep the sugar low and avoid the blood sugar spikes.
Check the Carbs
When it comes to carbs, well that depends on what your goals are. If you’re keen to shift some weight, eating low carb is important, so you’d want to aim for lower carbohydrate products, with between 0-20g of carbs per 100g. You would also want to make sure you’re eating less than 100g of carbs in total per day, so watch your serving sizes too. Lastly, make sure any grains you eat are unrefined, whole grains (wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, steel cut oats are all good examples of this. Pasta and bread do NOT fall into this category, unfortunately).
Check the Fat
Healthy, natural fats in the diet will actually help keep you lean, boost your immune system and improve brain function, so I rarely even glance at the fat content of products that I know are healthy (raw nuts, avocado, organic yoghurt, grass-fed meats, fish).
It’s usually carbs and unnatural fats (think deep fried foods, donuts, biscuits, chips, margarines and processed oils, sweets) that stack on the weight, NOT normal, healthy fats.
So, the only thing you should really pay attention to is whether the product contains trans fats, or altered fats. Saturated fats from natural products, like grass-fed meats, can actually be good for you.
Check the Fibre
This is perhaps the only nutrient that’s worth checking out ‘per serve’ and any product with more than 3g fibre per serve is a winner. FYI our collagen bars are over 3g per serve. There's not a lot of fibre in our beef range but of course you wouldn't expect there to be so it's not a big deal if fibre isn't present.
Check the Salt / Sodium
How much salt you need is individual. If you have hypertension you will want to closely monitor your salt intake, but for most people salt is fine in moderation and you shouldn't need to worry about it unless you're eating loads of processed foods full of salt (i.e. going nuts on the salt).
In our beef bars there's about 500mg of sea salt per bar, about 10% of a teaspoon, so less than a twist of a salt shaker. They’re lower in salt than most dried meat products and it’s important to remember beef has natural levels of salt which are effectively doubled when you dry it (i.e. take out the water).
In addition, salt has had a bit of an unfair bad wrap and recent science is calling this into question. Here’s a good book on the topic.
Or for a shorter read, our Chief Nutritionist Veronika has written about salt here.
Check the Ingredients
Try and choose products with as few ingredients as possible and that are close to their natural state. An apple is an apple but I’m not sure what apple-caramel-splice-treats are and I certainly don’t want to eat something containing ‘maltodextrin’. Basically if your granny doesn’t recognise an ingredient, it’s gotta go! You'll notice all our products contain ingredients you'll recognise which means they're minimally processed - there's nothing wrong with products in a packet if they're minimally processed.
Don’t be fooled by ‘Low Fat’ products
The full fat, less tampered with products usually contain less sugar and more nutrients. They also help with satiety.
If in doubt?
If in doubt, stick to foods that don’t require a label – veggies, fruit, grass-fed meats, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and other ‘one ingredient’ products always win! I go for organic foods to avoid things like pesticides and the wax on apples (which can contain gluten).
Follow Libby on Instagram