How to read food labels

I am a person who tends to move at speed; this is not always a good thing. A while ago, in the supermarket, I failed to notice the state of the floor as I rounded the corner of an aisle. Someone had dropped a glass jar of tomato sauce and I slipped in the huge sticky mess on the floor.  My foot was now covered so I stood stranded in the red splat.  Walking on would have spread it far and wide and other people might have slipped too.  Plaintively, I called for help.

While I was stranded, a lovely lady came along who was trying to see the jars of sauces.  I apologised for being in her way and asked what she wanted.  It turned out she was doing pizza and didn’t know which tomato sauce to buy for the topping.  I suggested she make her own instead, but she didn’t know how.  So we had a little chat.

Later she came back.  She had looked at theCherry toms tomato puree I suggested but said that her chosen jar contained less sugar.  By the time a supermarket herorine with a mop came to rescue me (bless you), the pizza lady had gone.  But I was puzzled.  Surely tomato puree doesn’t conatin any sugar, only tomatoes.  So I went to investigate.

I realised that the lady had looked at the nutritional breakdown part of the label, where it said ‘of which sugars’.  This is about carbohydrate content.  Vegetables and fruits are primarily carbohydrate so the percentage was high.  The ingredients list stated simply, tomatoes – there was no sugar.  The jar on the other hand had lots of added sugar.  I once saw someone advise that a sugary breakfast cereal was a better choice than natural muesli on the basis of the nutritional breakdown.  That is complete nonsense.  Since that part of the label seems to cause confusion, it can be more helpful to skip it.

For me, what matters is the list of ingredients.  No 1, is there a list of ingredients?  When you buy a tomato, a cauliflower or a piece of meat, there is no list of ingredients.  Fresh, natural foods are always best.  No 2, is there added sugar?  Look for any word ending in ‘ose’ and other terms such as modified maize starch.  Sweeteners are as bad if not worse.  Each type of sugar might be listed separately so you have to add them up.  Notice how the percentage is given for many ingredients but often left a mystery for the sugar.  You can take a guess because the ingredients are listed in order of content, with the highest first.  No 3, is it made with vegetable/sunflower oil?  No 4, are there lots of chemical additives?  These might be emulsifiers, stabilisers, artificial colours and flavours.

Next time you reach for a jar, packet or box of anything ready-made, pause to consider whether you could avoid eating so much sugar, sweeteners, vegetable oil and additives by making a healthier version yourself starting with fresh, natural ingredients.

Top tip: Know what’s in your food.

 

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