Always eat a balanced diet rich in wholefood.
Shop around the perimeter of the supermarket when buying your food.
You know the drill.
BUT… I would be lying if I said I never ate packaged food. It may not be the majority of my diet but it definitely has its place. However, there’s a trick to it – you have to know how to pick out the healthier options.
That’s where today’s post comes in!
You wouldn’t think picking out the healthier options would be so hard, but slap on sneaky marketing, confusing health labels, random numbers and ingredients so obscure they look like they’re in a foreign language and things get a liiiiitle bit tricky. Luckily, here are 6 SUPER simple tips that will help you pick out the grocery store gems in no time.
ALWAYS rely on the ‘nutrition information panels’ and not the health labels (e.g. ‘all natural’, ‘sugar free’ etc.) because they are often misleading. How they are even allowed to put such deceptive labels on food is bonkers! Oh and for those of you who aren’t familiar with what I mean by ‘nutrition information panels’, it’s this little thing here that you find on the back of the food packaging:
[ Note: it may not always be set up like this. ]
The ingredients on the nutrition information panels are actually listed from greatest to smallest by weight in that particular food. In other words, the closer an ingredient is to the start of the list, the more there is of it in that food.
Seems kind of obvious hey, but most people don’t realise this (I never used to either!). It’s so handy for being able to quickly pick out the not-so-healthy foods – if you see sugar and/or an ingredients high in saturated fat or sodium (salt) in the first three ingredients then you know it’s probably not the best option.
When comparing nutrients or kilojoules between similar products/brands, always use the ‘per 100g column’. Keep the ‘per serve’ column for when you want to know the quantities of nutrients or kilojoules you will be eating in one serve of a particular food.
It’s really important that we can make some sense of the nutrition information quantities because they tell us so much about that food. However, these numbers really don’t mean an awful lot to us if we don’t have a reference point or something to go by. With that said, here are the quantities you should be aiming for when it comes to fat, sugars, sodium and fibre:
When looking at the ‘per 100g’ column, try to choose foods with less than 10g. For milk, yoghurt and icecream in particular, choose less than 2g per 100g and for cheese, choose less than 15g per 100g.
Saturated Fat: Always try to aim for the lowest quantity per 100g. Ideally, aim for less than 3g per 100g.[ To understand fats better check out my recent post: Everything You Need to Know About Fats ]
Sugars: You don’t necessarily have to avoid sugar altogether, but do try to avoid large amounts of added sugars. If the sugar content is greater than 15g per 100g, check that sugar (including the alternative names for sugar – I’ll cover that in the next tip) aren’t high on the ingredients list.
Sodium (salt): Choose lower sodium options among similar foods. More specifically, foods with less than 400mg per 100g are good, and foods with less than 120mg per 100g are best.
Fibre: Although I’ve included it in this list, not all nutrition information panels will include fibre! However, if bread and cereals do have the fibre quantity included, go for products with 3g or more per serve.
Sometimes it feels as though you can’t get through an ingredient list without having a degree in chemistry or being fluent in jibberish. I totally get it. I mean, what macronutrient do half of these ingredients even fall under anyways? Carb? Fat? Lamp? Who the heck knows. To make matters worse, there will often be alternative names for ingredients that are practically the same thing. So, when you see sugar listed in the ingredient list and think that’s all there is, don’t be fooled, there could be more it’s just under a different name.
However, to make it a little easier, I’ve listed all the main culprits you have to watch out for. I’ve included all the alternative names for added sugar, as well as all the alternative names for ingredients high in sodium or saturated fat. You’re welcome.
Names for ingredients high in saturated fat: animal fat/oil, beef fat, butter, chocolate, milk solids, coconut, coconut oil/milk/cream, copha, cream, ghee, dripping, lard, suet, palm oil, sour cream, vegetable shortening.
Alternative names for added sugar: dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, raw sugar, sucrose.
Alternative names for high salt ingredients: baking powder, celery salt, garlic salt, meat/yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, MSG, onion salt, rock salt, sea salt, sodium, sodium ascorbate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium nitrate/nitrite, stock cubes, vegetable salt.
Often you’ll find that foods with a smaller ingredient list are healthier. Now this isn’t always the case, but a lot of the time ingredient lists will be longer if they contain more added sugar, salt, preservatives etc.!
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Ok guys, there you have it! That’s everything you need to be able to make sense of the ‘Nutrition Information’ panels and start making healthier options. Yay!
I hope everyone’s having a lovely weekend. If you have any more tips on how to choose healthier options share them in the comments below! xo
P.S. This week I’ll make you all a checklist you can take with you grocery shopping that summarises everything in this post!