Nutrition panels can be confusing, health claims are misleading so to help you out here is a little crash course I have put together for you. The Nutrition Facts table is on the side or back of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of Kilo-joules / calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right? Or at least become more aware of exactly what they are eating.
Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, because they provide us valuable information when it comes to our food choices that impact our health!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table. So grab a coffee, sit back and get informed!
But before we start with the nutrition label, my first point of call is to read the ingredients list. Items are listed from greatest to smallest by weight. Always check the first three ingredients for items high in saturated fat, sodium (salt) or added sugar. This can help you decide if it's even worth your time to explore the nutrition labels - sometimes its not. I have picked this example - LSA mix from Aldi. And before we delve in I can clearly see the ingredients lists real food; Ground linseeds, ground sunflower seeds and almond meal. Nothing else! This is a wholefood product and there for I know it will add value to my body.
First thing to look at when reading a nutrition label:
Step 1: Serving Size
One of the the absolute most important parts of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it's tricky.
All the information on the first column in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own. So to compare two products you must use the 100 g column.
Right, let's dive in.
As you can see, right under the Nutrition Information header is the serving size. That is 30g. This means that all the numbers underneath the first column are based on this amount.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts). We can often and easily over estimate serving sizes.
Step 2: % Daily Intake
The % Daily Intake (%DI) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DI for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
The %DI is a guideline, not a rigid rule & it will vary pending your own needs- take it with a grain of salt and use it as a general guide.
NOTE: You don’t need to add all of your %DI up for everything you eat all day - this wouldn't be accurate anyway because many foods ideally, wont have a label - think fruit and veggies and we all have differing energy needs. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a fair contributor of that nutrient.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugar, fibre and sodium)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a 30g (¼ cup) of LSA has 163 calories. This is worthwhile looking at when it comes to weight management and knowing how much to dish your on your plate!
Next as we move down the list is protein. Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of LSA contains 6.8 g of protein. This is a good amount of protein per serve at, 14%DI.
Total fat is 13.2 g (19% DI). That includes the saturated fat listed underneath it. Here, 13.2 g of total fat includes 3.2 g saturated fat (13%DI), (13.2 g - 3.2g = 10 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on this label, so you need to do a quick subtraction). Seeds and nuts are full of good fats. So as long as I serve out the right portion size for me, I am not at all concerned about the fats. We need fats from wholefoods.
When purchasing most packaged foods the general rule of thumb is to aim for foods with less than 10g per 100g. I would most definitely apply that rule to most other items. Furthermore, when it comes to dairy items, the general rule of thumb for milk and yoghurt, is to aim to choose the item if it has less than 2g per 100g. For cheese, choose less than 15g per 100g.
Carbohydrate, like fat, is listed as the total number of carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like sugar. Here, 30 g of LSA contain 2.5 g of carbohydrates. There is 2.4 g sugar - not added, just natural - the right type.
Fibre is next - and as you can see, 4.4 g of fiber is 15% of your daily intake for fiber. It's a great source of fibre, with more than 3 g per serve. Aim to choose packaged foods that offer 3 g or more of fibre per serve.
Sodium, is measured in mg. Ideally, aim to not exceed 100%DI. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Food with less than 400mg per 100g are good, and less than 120mg per 100g is best. This item has 36mg per 100g - it's completely fine.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
Some foods, especially cereal foods will list the vitamins and minerals at the bottom of the table. These are fairly straightforward.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, my best advice it to check the ingredients of your packaged foods to make the most informed decision about what goes into your body.
Do you have questions about it? If so, leave me a comment below.