With so much information around, it can become very hard to know what to believe and how to tell if a food is healthy.
I would like to first emphasise that food is generally not ‘black and white’ in terms of it’s healthiness and that it is not helpful for our mindset to label food as being inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
However it is a useful skill to learn how to read the label on a package of food to help clear the confusion and assist us in reducing some less healthy elements that we might unknowingly be eating.
Those of us who are time-poor may find this a daunting task but I promise with a little practise and remembering a few key points, it does become easier.
To save you time, I have also done a lot of the hard work for you!
Starting this week in Co-op Fresh Foodland, you will see this logo on products:
I have personally reviewed all of these products to save you time and energy during your shopping and you can trust that it is a healthy choice. The full list of foods and the criteria I used to select them can be downloaded from here.
Please keep in mind that these products are a small selection of healthy options. As much as I would love to spend hundreds of hours perusing the shelves comparing every single product available, I couldn’t quite find the time! So there will be many other products without this logo that are also healthy choices. Please use these as examples to compare with similar foods available to find other healthy options.
When reading a food label yourself, there are three main things to check: the nutrition table, the ingredients list and other claims or labels.
2. The Nutrition Table
This is where you will find a useful comparison tool: the ‘Per 100g’ column, which is standard on all products sold in Australia and must contain Energy, Protein, Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Carbohydrate, Sugar and Sodium. Other optional components include Fibre, Vitamins and Minerals.
A good rule of thumb is to compare the ‘Per 100g’ column to the following guidelines:
If a product does not fit within these guidelines, the next step is to check the ingredients list, as it may still be a healthy food.
2. Ingredients List
The ingredients in a product are listed in order from greatest to smallest by weight.
I like to check how many ingredients are ‘whole’ foods, or ones that you recognise by name. Although food safety in Australia is well regulated, it’s still best to aim for most of the foods you eat to have minimal non-food ‘additives’ if possible.
It’s also great to check where components like sugar or fat are coming from. For example, a product high in sugar that is made from 100% whole fruit I would consider very healthy and I may just be mindful of my portion size. However if a product’s sugar is coming mostly from ingredients such as added sugar, dextrose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, sucrose etc then it may not be the healthiest option.
Similarly, if a product is high in fat but most of this is ‘unsaturated’ fat then it is possible that it is still a very healthy product. Unsaturated fats are great for our skin, brain and heart and contain essential fat-soluble vitamins, especially if the fat comes from ingredients such as olive oil, nuts or seeds.
3. Other Claims / Labels
There are many other labels and claims you will find on products, some of which are useful and some which can be a bit misleading.
I always like to know whether a food is local, which can be indicated by the ‘Made in Australia’ logo.
The ‘Australian Certified Organic’ is another logo that is tightly regulated and can be trusted, however keep in mind that not all organic products are necessarily healthier (for example they may still be high in sugar or salt).
The ‘Low GI’, ‘Health Star Rating’ and ‘Heart Foundation Tick’ can be used as a loose guideline for choosing between similar types of products but I would always check the nutrition table and ingredients panel as well on these foods.
Many food claims (such as ‘fat free’) are regulated by Australian laws however companies are often good at using different wording (eg. ‘light/lite’ can mean a food is low in fat, but it might just mean that it is simply light in colour).
So in summary, it really does pay to check what’s in the food you’re eating as sometimes it can be surprising. Remember the old saying of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and become a bit more savvy at label reading.
To learn more about label reading, book in for a hands-on practical session with me at Co-op Fresh Foodland - limited places are available so click here for more details.