In part 1 of “Deciphering Food Labels”, I looked at the common terms we find on food labels and what they actually mean. It’s time now to confront the facts and figures! Although nutritional information can look pretty scary at first glance, it’s relatively easy to work out whether it’s a healthy food or not, or whether it’s a food that fits with your chosen diet, or style of eating.
To make things more practical and meaningful, I’ve got 2 labels I’m going to compare, which highlights some useful information, such as the nutritional balance of a food, and how much we actually consume per serving.
Looking at the balance of the macro-nutrients for example, i.e. carbohydrate, protein and fat, can determine how the food might affect energy levels and blood sugar balance. Simply reading the list of ingredients can be enough for you to decide whether you want to eat the food or not, however, glancing at the figures can provide a more rounded view.
So let’s take a look at two different food labels
The one on top is an example of a healthy, simple bar (in this case, Nakd Strawberry Crunch!) and just below is a well-known brand that makes cereal bars for children.
Firstly, let’s consider the “per 100g” column. This best reveals the nutritional “balance” of the food. Think of the grams as percentages. If I look at the first label (Nakd Strawberry Crunch), I can immediately see that the bar is approximately 18% protein, 49% carbohydrate and 9% fat – a healthy balanced food – not too high in carbs or fat with sufficient protein to keep energy and blood sugar levels steady.
Now let’s compare this to the second label: Immediately I am struck by the high carbohydrate percentage (71%) the low protein proportion (4%) and it’s higher fat percentage (15%). Of course looking at the somewhat “car crash” list of ingredients, I can count up to 18 ingredients, all of which are some form of processed sugar, determining this high proportion of sugar.
Is it any better ‘per bar’?
Let’s turn to the “per bar” or “per serving” column, and pick out the essentials here. This is where you’ll find the actual figures or amounts of calories and nutrients you will consuming. Firstly, consider how the food in question fits into your entire diet. The Nakd bar below contains a mere 109 kilocalories (kcals), which for a person eating an “average” 2000 kcal a day diet, means it’s about 5% of the total food or calorie content for the day - a relatively small amount.
One might consider this, therefore, as a useful snacking food, which, per bar, is low in carbs and fat, yet has a good amount of fibre and protein. The other bar is unsurprisingly higher in calories, higher in carbs and sugars, higher in fat, and lower in protein and fibre. Although, again, it would only make up a small percentage of the diet as a whole, I know which bar I would prefer, in order to eat healthily, and remain energised.
Another useful piece of information is the “of which sugars” which sits in brackets under the term carbohydrate. This can be a little misleading, because it doesn’t differentiate between naturally present sugars, and “added” or processed sugars. This is revealed of course in the list of ingredients, so go here first!
Count the ingredients!
Nakd Strawberry Crunch - Dates (43%), Soya Crunchies (17%), Cashews (17%), Raisins (17%), Strawberries (2%), Apple Juice Concentrate (2%) and a hint of natural flavouring.
Other cereal bar - Toasted Rice Cereal (24% Rice, Sugar, Milk Chocolate -(6% Sugar , Cocoa Mass, Whole Milk Powder, Cocoa Butter, Skimmed Milk Powder), Cocoa Powder, Glucose Syrup, Salt, Malt Extract (from Barley)), Sugar Puffs (17% - Wheat, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Sugar, Honey, Glucose Syrup, Molasses, Niacin, Iron, Riboflavin, Thiamine), Chocolate Flavoured Drizzle (15% - Sugar, Vegetable Fat, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Whey Powder, Skimmed Milk Powder, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin), Natural Vanilla), Milk Chocolate Chips- (12.8% Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Whole Milk Powder, Whey Powder, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin)), Marshmallow (6.4% -Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Sugar, Gelatine, Maize Starch, Flavouring), Glucose Syrup, Vegetable Oil, Invert Sugar Syrup, Humectant (Glycerol), Sugar, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Fructose, Cocoa Powder.
Which one would you rather eat?
The sugars in the Nakd bar are natural, and predominantly come from dates, raisins, strawberries and apple juice, whereas the sugars in the other bar are pretty much all processed, including sugar, glucose syrup, and glucose-fructose syrup. These refined or processed sugars are linked to many health problems such as obesity, diabetes and fatty liver. The total figure for carbohydrate includes both “complex” sugars (often called starches) and “simple” sugars.
Hopefully, looking at food labels will now appear a little more meaningful to you. You’re certainly in a better position to decide whether the food you are considering is something you want to include in your diet.
Check out the first part of our food labels exploration in case you missed it the first time.