Knowing how to read food labelling is a great skill to have in order to achieve better health.
I just want to note that this post is not to scare you about consuming certain products, it is a guide to choosing products with less processed ingredients if this is what you are interested in.
Knowing where to start can be confusing and misleading! So keep reading for some basic tips to make sure you are buying products that are better quality and more natural.
1. Traffic light labelling
Most products now use traffic light labelling to give you a quick insight into the general nutritional values it provides.
While this can be extremely useful, I would not recommend assuming that a product is ‘healthy’ just because it has all green sections. Use this as a starting basis, and always turn the packet over and look at the rest of the information provided.
I recommend using the traffic light system for packaged products, such as snack bars or crisps. Products like this tend to be higher in saturated fats and sugar, if this is a concern for you then look no further than traffic light labelling.
I find the traffic light system detrimental when buying natural products such as nuts and seeds. Of course products like this are high in fat and show as ‘red’. This does not mean nuts and seeds are ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’, they are high in good fats and are majorly beneficial to the body.
So, to summarise, the traffic light system can be useful, but do not let it cause you to draw a false conclusion about a product too quickly. Read point 2 for the next step!
2. Ingredients list
Lets get straight to it, the first 3 ingredients are key when deciding whether or not to buy a product.
If the first 3 ingredients are natural and necessary for the product, it is likely to be good for your health. For example, if peanut butter has 96% peanuts, sustainable palm oil and a pinch of sea salt, this is a product you should go for.
However, if the peanut butter has more than 3 ingredients (which just is not necessary), and some are artificial, there is probably a better option out there! For example peanut butter that has 90% peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated oil and table salt.
A general rule of thumb, if the product has an ingredients list longer than your arm, there is probably a better option out there!
3. E-number look out!
A lot of people simply look for ingredients starting with ‘E’, and assume if there aren’t any, it is additive free!
But unfortunately it is not quite this simple. Manufacturers can use the E-code, actual name of the additive, OR the trade name of an additive. For example, Aspartame could be labelled as Aspartame, E951 or Nutrasweet.
If you would like to limit additives, try to avoid products with really long ingredients lists and always look up ingredients that you do not recognise!
4. Misleading food labels
A lot of manufacturers use certain colours and phrases on packaging that pull you into a false sense of security.
- ‘Low calorie’
A product might be ‘sugar-free’, but what has the sugar been replaced with? Most of the time sweeteners are added to decrease the amount of calories. This is a great point to know because you have the choice to consume the version with natural sugar, or the version with sweeteners. I would personally recommend going for products with more natural ingredients.
I also wanted to point out that consuming additives once is a while is not going to cause any damage, so please allow yourself a treat every now and then!
Thank you so much for reading my tips on how to read food labelling effectively! I really hope you found it useful and please drop me any questions! Be sure to subscribe and follow me on Instagram!