How to read nutritional labels (correctly)
It can be so overwhelming when you’re reading food labels at the supermarket that you may overlook the nutritional facts. Buzzwords like ‘free-range’, ‘all-natural’, or ‘fat-free’ all sound like healthy choices, and sometimes they are, but other times they can be misleading. The truth is some food companies will choose to highlight one or two ingredients to persuade you (the consumer) to buy the product and hopefully not read through the rest of the ingredients. This makes food labels confusing and misleading.
So, to understand and read them correctly, we spoke with two registered dietitians and nutritionists who told us what popular nutrition label words mean and tips for smart food shopping.
You assume fat- and sugar-free products are healthy
Depending on your dietary needs, cutting back on sugar or fat could help you reach your health goals. But be careful: reduced-fat products tend to have extra sodium or sugar, and lower sugar often means more fat or salt, says professor of nutrition at Neumann University, Libby Mills. “Whatever they’re taking out, they typically add something else to add flavour,” she says. Plus, you might actually find yourself more satisfied with a full-fat product. For instance, if a full-cream yoghurt fills you up, where a low-fat one finds you reaching for something else to eat, stick with the fattier version.
You don’t note the serving size
When you hunker down with a bag of chips, you could be blowing way past the recommended serving size, meaning you’re eating more kilojoules and fat than you thought, says Jen Bruning. For an easy, no-measure trick, she recommends noting the number of servings in a packet, then working out how much one serving would be, like one-third of a bag. Be extra careful with packages that look like a single serving. “Even with small items like chocolate bars, it’s important to see how many servings are in your hand,” she says. “Just because it can fit in your hand or you can eat it in one sitting doesn’t mean it fits one serving size by nutrition.”