Reading Food Labels

I vaguely remember being taught to read food labels in food technology at high school and I retained a very basic amount of that information. It’s not until you really need to pay attention to what you are consuming that you realise that reading food labels can be an art form depending on the information you are trying to glean from them.

My basic rule now is that if something I am considering eating has a label on it I’m going to read it first. What I am most interested in , first and foremost, is the protein content of the food. Then I look at the fat and sugar content and I also pay attention to the carbohydrate content as I try not to have too many carbs in my diet overall. Fibre is another nutrient I consider but it’s not a make or break element of it for me.

I need to get in 60-80 grams of protein a day and since my gastric bypass and I have limited stomach space and only three meals a day to achieve this. I need to make sure that if something is going to take up valuable real estate in my teeny tiny tummy that it has a good protein payoff for me.

The basic rundown of how to read a food label goes like this, the ingredients of the product are listed in order of overall quantity in the food. So, the biggest ingredient goes first and the smallest one goes last. Then you come to the nutritional panel which has the breakdown of the food as a whole product.

In the nutritional information panel there will always be two columns. One will have the values per serve of the food and the other will have the quantity per 100 grams. It’s important to keep in mind that even something that looks and you would expect to be a single serve in the pack is, more often than not, usually at least two servings of the food.

Since the serve size is so variable I always refer to the ‘per 100g’ column to get a good comparison between how one food stacks up with another. I have limits I follow too and they are that the fat content needs to be below 10g per 100g and also the same under 10g per 100g for sugar. For liquids the sugar content needs to be below 5g per 100g because of the risk of dumping. Fibre is preferable with more than 6g per 100g and low in sodium (salt) too.

In looking at anything I always compare a few products to see what’s the best option. Take yoghurt for example it took me a good half an hour one day finding one that had suitable levels of everything. I settled on Symbio Vanilla yogurt and it has 4.0g of protein 0.9g of total fat (0.7g of which is saturated fat), 8.5g of sugar and 2.1g of fibre per 100g.

That was the best protein/fat/sugar/fibre payoff I could find at that point in time but I have to admit it is probably worth me checking and looking at things again. It has probably been a year since I looked at yoghurt in particular and there is quite possibly better for me products that are bound to have been released.

Are you careful with what you eat and do you read food labels? If you have had bariatric surgery was this a new skill you have had to learn or have you become more educated in what your body needs and what to look for? Let me know in the comments below I’d love to know how you use the information that’s available to us.

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There are 6 comments for this article
  1. Meagan at 8:14 pm

    I’m an avid label reader, and while I don’t buy food with labels often (I prefer non-processed food), when I do sugar is the thing I check first. Like you I try to keep it under 10g per 100g, because sugar really doesn’t agree with me. I’ve been totally processed sugar free for almost a whole month and I’m feeling great, so I’m going to keep reading those labels!

    • Melissa Peaks Author at 8:43 pm

      That’s awesome Meagan! It really is amazing how different you feel without sugar isn’t it. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in checking out the labels of anything I consider eating 😀

  2. Ashleigh at 9:22 pm

    Like you Melissa I always read food labels. First I look at how many ingredients and if there’s any with numbers. Then I go onto sugar,carbs,sodium,protein then fat last. Funny you should mention yoghurt as I find it quite difficult at the moment to find one with low sugar (that has flavour)as they seem to contain a lot. Like your other post…groceries can take awhile! I’m mostly self taught and have found The healthy food guide magazine helpful for picking healthier choices. Great post!

    • Melissa Peaks Author at 2:24 pm

      I do wonder how much of the sugar in yoghurt is down to the natural sugars in the milk and how much is added sugar. It can be hard to find ones with under 10 grams of sugar whereas I’d prefer one with less than 5 grams. Good on you for reading food labels it’s so important to know what we are putting in our bodies regardless of what your specific dietary requirements are.

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