“So you think you can read?” …… Really reading food labels
We have food label ‘traffic lights’, RDA’s, RNI’s, guideline daily amounts (GDA’s), portions sizes, good fats, bad fats, simple sugars, refined, unrefined, mono, bio and super foods – no wonder we get confused.
It gets worse…even the attempt by government to help us understand what’s in the (processed) food we buy has been besmirched by clever marketing and wording (an interesting recent article on why a compulsory ‘traffic light system’ never happened http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18767425) So let’s look at what’s really going on and how you can easily work out (roughly, or exactly) what the food you buy is made up of from a calorie, quality and macronutrient (fats, carbohydrate, calories and protein) perspective.
Most of us recognize that some foods now have a Red, Amber or Green color code either as a pie chart (nice pun I thought!) or on the label itself… e.g.
We then blindly go for anything Green over Red or accept Amber as a compromise. All good right? Well it seems there are different Red’s, Amber’s and Greens depending on what ‘They’ think is “proportional” in your diet!? Have a look at this…
You’ll notice the second paragraph appears to say that 188 calories can be good or bad, depending! Not much help really.
So let’s recall the last article and the ‘fundaments’….. all food ends up as one of four energy substrates once metabolized; proteins, carbohydrates (simple sugars or more complex starches), fats or alcohol (which is a sugar and pure source of energy). One gram of each gives up the following:
- Protein = 4 calories
- Carbohydrate = 4 calories
- Fat = 9 calories
- Alcohol = 7 calories (hopefully not in too much food!)
Lets now apply this to really reading a food label. Here are the key things to do when you pick up a pack.
- Look at how many calories are in the food itself. Be careful to take into account that a pack may have SEVERAL servings in it and the label may give values for PER serving! So you may need to multiply by 2 or three or more servings to work out the total amount of calories in the pack.
- Next take the grams of what you are interested in (e.g. fat) and using your knowledge multiply the grams by the calories per gram (e.g. fat at 9 calories per gram multiplied by ‘X’ grams; in the example below that is 13g – so 117 calories from fat). An easier way to get a good rough estimate is to round up and use ‘times’ 10 for fat and 5 for protein and carbohydrate which is a slightly easier calculation on the go.
- Now divide that number into the total calories (e.g. continuing our example below… 117/260 = 45%) to find out exactly what is IN THAT food/pack – as opposed to the percentages given which are based on the arbitrary ‘daily guideline’ NOT the pack of food you are buying.
Here is a full analysis of a food label using this ‘fundamentals approach’
We all recognize we should eat less (calories) but what we often miss looking at the quality of the (processed) food we eat. If you buy a ‘Green’ traffic light food you may discover that it is Green only because the manufacturer decided so based on this guideline daily amount (GDA) or even worse; based on what they considered proportional based on what you might eat!
But you can now discover the true quality of the food you buy through a few simply calculations.
Finally you can use the following as a comparison as to what is high and low (per 100grams) and you will never see a food label in quiet the same way again!
Nutrient A little A lot
Sugar 2g 10g
Fat 3g 20g
Saturated fat 1g 6g
Sodium 0.1g 0.5g
All content on Silverhairs.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated at all as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Silverhairs.com will not be responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content on www.silverhairs.com and we are also not liable for the content of any external websites or links from or to Silverhairs to any other websites. Please always consult your own doctor if you’re in any way concerned about any aspect of your health.
Have you got a health question?
We've teamed up with AXA Health to bring you articles, information and tips from their clinical teams on a wide range of health topics. And if you have a question of your own, their, "Ask the Expert" service allows you to ask the team of friendly, experienced nurses, pharmacists and midwives about any health topic and they'll get back to you with an answer as soon as they’re able.* So if you have something that’s been bothering you, whether it concerns you or someone close to you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Click below to submit your query online.
* Nurses are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Midwives and pharmacists are available Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm; Saturday, 8am to 4pm; and Sunday, 8am to 12pm.
Actual response time will depend on the nature of your enquiry and availability of appropriately qualified experts but the team will always aim to get back to you within 24 hours.
Please note that our Expert Help services are there to offer health information and support. They do not diagnose or prescribe, and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice given in the context of an individual consultation.
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!