When tracking calories and macros or deciding what brand to choose do you know what information you should be looking at?
Not quiet what you wanted to hear, but as with all things health and fitness the answer is somewhat related to your goals and preferences.
This article will go through the basics of reading nutrition panels and comparisons, however keep in mind that the end food choice will not always be the food with the lowest numbers. For example; if you goal is to reduce sugar intake you may choose a food that is lower in sugar. If your goal is to eat less processed foods; you may choose one with higher sugars but this sugar may come from the natural sugars in fruit.
Only YOU can make the decision on which food you choose based on knowledge!
This nutrition panel is for Nutri-grain To Go (please note this is just an example panel for visuals/reference and we are not stating that you should or should not consume this food item, again it comes down to goals and personal preference and hopefully by the end of this article, you can make your own informed choice)
The ingredients list on packaged food must be listed in descending order. This means that the ingredient listed first contributed the largest amount to the product and the ingredient listed last contributed the least amount. This is based on ingoing weight at time of manufacturing.
Some ingredients (usually the 'key' ingredient) will also list the percentage of the product that contains the ingredient. This can be also be used when making comparisons of similar products.
When comparing products ensure you compare the per 100g column. It will give you a more informed and accurate comparison if serving size listed is different.
Servings per package - this number indicates how many suggested servings are within the packaged item. This number is important to be aware of as sometimes the serving size and the portion sizes are very different. Often there are packaged foods that we assume are 1 x serving however they may actually be 2 (or more!).
Some examples include:
Pringles 53g ('mini' snack size can) - contains 2 serving sizes
Ben & Jerry's Ice cream 458ml - contains 4 serving sizes
Lenny & Larry's The Complete Cookie (protein Cookie) - 1 x cookie contains 2 servings
Smarties 50g box - contains 3 servings
It is important to be aware of this especially when looking at the figures in the per serving column.
Serving Size - This number usually in grams or millilitres indicates what a serving size is. It is important to be aware of the serving size and when looking at the nutritional information. If the serving size of Tim Tams is 1 biscuit but you usually eat 2 - you need to be aware when looking at the per serving column that what you are 'actually' consuming is double these figures
Energy - this is usually listed in kilojoules (kj) or calories (cals); to calculate calories from the kilojoules you can simply divide total kilojoules by 4.184 (or to keep it simple - 4.2)
Protein - protein is a very important macronutrient when eating in a deficit (to lose weight) or when aiming to gain muscle. How much protein you required will be dependant on your goals. However you should aim for a source of protein at each meal or snack. A high protein source will enhance satiety and overall fullness after the food is consumed
Fats and Carbohydrates - the impact of these numbers on food choices, again will depend on your individual goals, however as mentioned above; if comparing products use the per 100g column to make an appropriate comparison. The Australian Government of Health and Ageing recommend for general health that you should aim for less than 10g of fat per 100g and choose options with the least amount of saturated fats
Sugars - again the impact of these numbers on your food choices may be impacted by your current goals. Be mindful that foods containing fruit will be higher in sugar due to the fructose (natural sugars) in fruit. Sugar is not the enemy (we can discuss this in another blog later) but for your knowledge 4g sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon.
Dietary Fibre - A nutritional panel does not need to list dietary fibre unless a nutritional claim has been made by the product regarding fibre, sugar or carbohydrates. For example 'high in fibre' claims
Nutritional panels are a great tool to compare brands and food choices. It is important to be aware of what all these numbers mean and to be empowered to make educational decisions based on your goals. The amount of calories per serving is important regardless whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain weight or gain weight (calories in vs calories out) but be aware that the lowest calorie option may not always offer the most satiety and fullness. A food that also contains high protein and fibre can help with keeping you fuller for longer.
So, don't forget to look at the nutrition panel as a whole and choose wisely!