A basic guide to understanding food labels - Part One

Understanding foods labels is key if you want to ensure your child has a healthy diet.

understanding food labels

A basic guide to understanding food labels

If you are wandering down the aisles of the supermarket and purchasing processed foods you will no doubt have gazed at plenty of food labels and in many cases been left confused over whether the product is actually good for you and your family.

Today, food labels seem to be more about making claims of the nutrients within the food and barely mentioning the food itself in the hope their product will end up in your trolley!

First 3 things to pay attention to

Let’s run through a basic guide to understanding food labels so you can make a more informed decision before you add it to your weekly shop. Here are the three things I look at first when reading information about a product.

1. Look at the ingredients list first

Don’t even think about relying on the claims on the front of the box! Take a look at the ingredients list especially the first three items.

The ingredients are listed in descending order, so if you see something like sugar in the first three ingredients, this is not an item you want your child to be eating.

Ask yourself what type of flour? What type of sugars? Are the vitamins synthetic or natural? How many ingredients are being used? And are there ingredients I have no idea what they are?

Another note to make is the key or characterising ingredient of the product must include the percentage of the ingredient within the list as long as it is over 5%. For example, strawberry yoghurt will have the percentage of strawberries in the product, say 9%.

If you spend some time reading the ingredients you will have a better understanding of the product. If you are not sure of one or two ingredients, take note of the name and put it back on the shelf. Better to read up on the ingredients and purchase it another day if you are happy eating it rather than buying something that is toxic!

2. Look at the servings per package

Seeing how many servings per package will help you avoiding overeating. You may just be surprised that in many cases your child has eaten two, possibly even three servings of the food or drink.

3. Quantity per serving vs quantity per 100g

Quantity per serving tells you how many nutrients per serve whereas quantity per 100g’s gives you a figure which enables you to easily compare the nutritional information to other products. I prefer to look at the per 100g figures as you are not necessarily going to follow the servings per package, I don’t need to worry about doing any multiplication and as I mentioned before it is easier to compare two or more products.

Ignore the health claims

The world of kids branded food products is riddled with health claims in the hope that you will think that the food is good for your child and make a sale. As I mentioned, the first thing you should do when considering a product is to look at the ingredients to see whether their claims are all that true. Here are a few health claims that marketers continuously use that you should be wary of:

  • Fat-Free or Low-fat

    For a product to be fat-free it has to be less than 0.15% fat and many products replace the fat with sugar!

    This just means it is light in colour, flavour or texture and has no relevance to the actual fat content.

  • Oven baked, not fried

    Although these products might be cooked in the oven, chances are they are still coated in a form of fat, so make sure you look at the fat content.

  • Sugar-free or no added sugar

    This means the product is free of sucrose or table sugar, but other sugars are OK. Considering there are over 40 types of sugars used in processed foods this claim means very little.

  • Reduced salt

    This claim refers to the product having less than 25% salt than the original product. So it could still be high in salt.

  • Real fruit

    Yes, there might be real fruit in the ingredients, but there is nothing stopping manufacturers from adding trans fats or sugars to ruin the point of eating fruit! As you can see, claims may first look great, but the reality may not live up to the advertiser’s creative wording. In part two of a 'Basic guide to understanding food labels', I will talk about each nutritional component and what to look out for when choosing a product.