While shopping for food, it is very important to make a careful note of food labels. Food labels contain a lot of information and can be quite confusing. Some of the ingredients mentioned on the food labels can even be harmful to you and your family.
Here are a few basic tips that can make shopping for healthy food a whole lot simpler and quicker and can even help you lose weight or gain weight, depending on your requirement. If you are aware of what you are looking for, you can make a healthy choice and avoid unnecessary saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and kilojoules.
It is mandatory that labels on packaged food should meet strict requirements and information for people with food allergies should be provided. Food additive listings and food storage instructions are also given.
While food labels can carry many different types of information, the main things to look at when choosing healthy food can be seen on the nutrition information panel.
How to read a Food Label
At its very basic level, the information on the food label provides the expiry date, price, and net weight of the product. As a busy executive or for working parents who need to cook dinner in the simplest and fastest way, you may miss out vital information like the country of origin, list of ingredients, nutrition fact table and warning statements, just to name a few. If you check the food label properly, you will be able to choose appropriate products to be used in family meals.
- Serving Size: Although figures usually show a single serving, serving sizes differ between manufacturers. The quantity is mentioned on the package, use the ‘Per 100g’ serving to compare against other products as each serving size differs.
- Unit of the ingredients: The quantity of each nutrient is expressed in grams or milligrams.
- Percent Daily Values: The percent daily values of a single serving differ for all people depending on body size and physical activity levels. Instead, follow the values of a particular ingredient per 100 grams. For example, daily intake should not exceed ‘X ‘grams of ‘Y’ ingredient per 100 grams, per day.
What to look out for:
Higher sodium levels can result in elevated blood pressure and other related cardiovascular issues, such as stroke. This is especially true for those over 50 years of age, as the walls of the blood vessels harden. For all people, the kidneys have difficulty in processing excess sodium in the bloodstream. This results in an increase in body fluid including blood, which creates an added load on the cardiovascular system, and may lead to hypertension.
Therefore, at a young age, it is advisable to consider lower levels of sodium in your daily diet, so as to prevent the onset of diseases such as hypertension or stroke. When meal planning, your sodium intake should be limited to 1,600 mg sodium per day, which is the equivalent of about 0.75 teaspoons.
Sodium can be found in the following ingredients:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda (also called sodium bicarbonate)
- Baking powder
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
- Sodium citrate
- Sodium nitrite
There is a variety of foods marked as ‘low sodium’ available. You can also ensure low sodium intake by preferring fresh fruit and vegetables, to processed foods, as the potassium level is naturally higher and will counteract or help manage, the effects of sodium intake. One of the first steps to reduce excess sodium is not to add extra table salt to your food at home.
One of the biggest culprits for high sodium intake is processed food, especially meats like bacon, luncheon meat, corned beef, and hot dogs. Cut down on these, and instead, opt for fresh lean meat, preferably white meat like chicken or fish instead of red meat, or vegetable protein such as beans and legumes.
Sugar is present in almost all food products. You can find it in soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks and almost all processed foods – even in baby food. Excessive sugar impacts the metabolism, elevates blood pressure, and tampers with proper hormone functioning, which can lead to liver damage. The key to healthier sugar intake is to minimize the daily consumption, and look for food labels that mention natural sugar. During meal preparation, try to restrict the maximum daily sugar consumption per person as follows:
- Men: 150 calories (9 teaspoons)
- Women: 100 calories (6 teaspoons)
You should avoid unnecessary sweet foods and drinks. You will be surprised at the number of food products that contain high levels of sugar. Yogurt with fruit for instance, contains up to 19 grams of sugar per cup of yogurt. Opt for plain yogurt and just add a bit of fresh fruit to it and maybe a small quantity of sugar for taste.
3. Saturated Fat
This describes fat that is solid at room temperature. Saturated fat causes an increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol which results in heart disease and stroke. So, the best way to follow a healthier diet is to avoid consuming saturated fat entirely, by closely monitoring food labels when you shop for food for you and your family.
According to the American Heart Association, a person should consume no more than 5% to 6% of calories per day from saturated fat. So, for 2,000 calories consumed, only a maximum of 120 calories should be from saturated fat, which amounts to a maximum of 13 grams of saturated fat a day.
The more processed and take-away food you eat, the more saturated fat you are likely to consume. Try to stick to home-cooked meals as much as possible, and take your own meals to work. While shopping for ingredients for your family meals, try to buy natural products, free from saturated fats
Better to be Safe than Sorry
For parents who both work and lead a hectic executive lifestyle , the ExecFuel program can teach you more about a healthier way of creating meal plans and food preparation, for sustainable nutrition and weight-loss maintenance. If you are careful about what ingredients you put into your meal preparation, you and your family will be better off in the long-term. Start applying some of these small changes today!