Forget fad diets, according to our nutritional coach Zoe Bingley-Pullin the key to maintaining your weight is all about education. If you know what your eating (and we are not talking about the name of the product here) then you are well on your way to a balanced diet.
What’s that proverb again? … Give a man a diet and he’s skinny for a day. Teach a man about food and he’s healthy for a lifetime?
However, understanding the nutritional value of food is often confusing and complicated.
10 fast facts
- Always compare products using the 100g panel
- 5g of fat or sugar equals 1 teaspoon
- Low fat products that are labeled light, lite, or fat free, are often high in sugar
- Not all fats are bad; however we do need to keep the intake of some types of fat reasonably low
- per 100g of food product, 20g of fat or more is a lot, 3g or less is a little
- per 100g of food product, 15g of sugar or more is a lot, 2g or less is a little
- Many Australians eat twice (or more) the amount of salt that their body needs
- per 100g of food product, 500mg of sodium (salt) or more is a lot, 100mg or less is a little
- per 100g of food product, 10g of fibre or more is a lot, 2g or less is a little
- High fibre means the food must contain at least 3g of fibre per serve.
What is included on food labels?
All food labels in Australia must comply with the Food Standards Code implemented by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and includes the following:
All food labels will have an ingredient list. Look at this first to find out exactly what is in the product. Ingredients are listed in order by weight, with the ingredient with the highest quantity by weight listed first. If sugar, fat or salt is listed near the beginning of the ingredient list, it is likely the product contains a large quantity of these ingredients. Additives are listed by their general name followed by their chemical name in brackets and their code name. Codes can be obtained from FSANZ at http://www.foodstandards.gov.au
All nutrition panels on food labels in Australia provide information on specific nutrients and allow you to make comparisons between similar foods. The specific nutrients include energy (in kilojoules), protein, total fat (which can be broken into saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat), total carbohydrate (broken into sugars and starch) and sodium (salt). Other nutrients for which a claim is made on the label (e.g. high in fibre or low in saturated fat) may also be included.
Information is given per 100g and per serve or portion. Be cautious when comparing products that provide information using serving size, as the manufacturer decides the serving sizes, which can vary widely between brands. You should always compare products using the 100g panel.
Some food labels contain nutrition claims such as ‘high in iron’ or ‘low in fat’. While these claims may be useful it’s still important to check the nutrition panel to help you to decide whether the food is healthy or not, e.g. a food low in fat may be very high in salt.
Interpreting the label
When looking at labels don’t just look at the kilojoules and fat content, also look at the sugar, sodium (salt) and fibre content.