Reading the Labels

On a rare occasion I get to go to the shops alone. For me this is like taking a kid to the candy store. I often shop at local markets or my local, which is Clayfield Markets in Brisbane. I love this place. When I have the time, I love to watch people picking their produce and putting things in their baskets (its not really a trolley kind of place) I love watching people squeeze their avocados before picking the most perfect one to take home. It seems people at these places like to take their time when buying foods and are genuinely excited about produce. I find this at markets too. It’s not just a rush at the supermarket shoving things in the trolley left right and centre.

Buying food should be an exciting adventure. And yes not all of us have the time, or if you are like me, often you have a whiney baby and want to get out of there as quickly as possible. BUT I think every now and then its important to stop, look at the produce and look at the labels. Get to know the back of the packet, it really shouldn’t be that hard to work out when you get to k now them a little more. Once you have figured out what is healthy for you and what is not, you can easily grab that product in a frenzied hurry next time.

There is a lot of confusion when buying things, and I find people often get overwhelmed. But this blog post will help you know what to look for on the back of the labels and the real things to AVOID at all costs!

Look at labels to make healthier choices for you and your family. That doesn’t always mean that, “no sugar”, “low fat” or “gluten free” is actually healthy options. One of the first things I say to my patients is “if you don’t understand every ingredient in the ingredients list, then put it down and walk away”.

As a general rule I have five main tips for you to follow on your shopping journey.

  1. Ignore marketing ploys! When a product says that it is low fat, it is usually loaded with sugar, just because it is a gluten free doughnut, doesn’t mean it is a healthy doughnut! Just because it has no sugar on the label doesn’t mean it is ridden with preservatives and artificial sweeteners.
  2. Completely ignore the ‘Daily Intakes’ panel. This number is an average energy requirement. Take a look around you, are your energy requirements the same as the person next to you? Maybe they are overweight, sedentary and a lot older than you, or perhaps they are 18 years old and sleeping all day after partying all night. These are also usually based on the upper limits, so it really isn’t a reliable label component.
  3. Always read the ingredients label – are their ingredients within this label that you don’t even recognise as food, are there loads of numbers and preservatives! If you don’t understand even 10% of the ingredients list, walk away from it.
  4. Is it truly organic? To be a truly certified organic product, a company has to undergo a lot of rigorous testing and certifying. Organic means from the ground, however certified organic is what you are looking for, as this has been regulated with set standards. To be truly organic the product must be free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics. Livestock must be free range, pasture-fed and seeds must be GM free and biodiversity friendly.
  5. The ingredients label is actually listed by weight. The most used ingredient will be the first on the list, and the last ingredient will be the least used in the product. You do not want to see sugar in the top five ingredients at least.

It can be really over whelming at first, and you may feel like you just don’t know what food is good. Perhaps you feel bombarded by the constant marketing and people telling you that you need to eat “low fat” or that “paleo” is the only way, or maybe you think sugar is the enemy. If you feel like this, seek the help of a professional Nutritionist or Naturopath who can get to know you, and your needs. Just like you would seek an IT consultant when your computer is having a tantrum, or a mechanic when your car is blowing smoke.