Heart of the Matter – What are you eating?

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   13th Jul 2018

Our top tips to understanding food labels.

Calories, salt, sugar, fat, fibre, carbohydrates, saturated, unsaturated and serving sizes. A healthy diet is important to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease but reading and understanding food labels can often be a tricky business. Thankfully the Irish Heart Foundation’s expert dietitian Sarah Noone is on hand with her top tips to understanding food labels.

“When someone asks me ‘is this healthy?’ the ingredients list is the first thing I look at to see what is actually in it,”

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

Read the ingredients list:

According to Sarah, the ingredients list never lies.

“When someone asks me ‘is this healthy?’ the ingredients list is the first thing I look at to see what is actually in it.”

She explained that the ingredients will always be listed in descending order. The first ingredient is the one that is in the food in the largest amount and so on to the last ingredient on the list, which is there in the smallest amount.

“So, if sugar, oil or butter for example are near the top of the ingredients list then the food is probably going to be high in calories,” Sarah said.

Check the serving size, its often not the whole pack.

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Get Savvy with the nutrition table:

Sarah advised that the nutrition table at the back of the food packaging is very useful when comparing two products.

“Most nutrition labels will tell you about the nutrients per 100g which is really useful to compare things such as calories (kcals), sugar, salt, fat and fibre in similar foods. When it comes to fats these can sometimes be broken down into saturated and unsaturated. Try to choose the option with a majority of unsaturated rather than saturated fats.”

Check the serving size, it’s often not the whole pack:

Most of us don’t eat according to the listed serving size as companies often reference serving sizes that are unrealistically small.

As Sarah explained, “For example, a bottle of fruit juice will often reference a serving size of 150mls on the nutrition table, when the actual bottle could be more than double this. This is very deceiving as here you are looking at nutrition values that represent only half of what you will likely consume. A useful trick is to eyeball the referenced serving size and what this would look like e.g. half a pack to get an idea of the nutritional content of however much you are likely to eat.”

“Just because a product has a nutrition or health claim, does not mean it is low in fat, salt and sugar,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

The Claims:

There’s a wide range of nutrition and health claims that can be made on products that must meet strict rules. While they can be handy, it’s useful to know exactly what they mean.

As Sarah explained, “Some of the most common claims are ‘reduced fat’ or ‘no added sugar’. A reduced fat food must have 30 per cent less than the full fat version but be aware it could still be high in fat so check the nutrition label.”

‘No added sugar’, means that no sugar is added during processing.  However Sarah advised to be aware that “just because a product has a nutrition or health claim, does not mean it is low in fat, salt and sugar. So a product claiming to be high in fibre may still be high in sugar.”

Finally if in doubt when doing your weekly shop Sarah advised consulting the Irish Heart Foundation’s handy food shopping card, which can help to check the products you buy regularly, compare them with others and perhaps swop to healthier alternatives. Why not print a copy to keep in your wallet.

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dietitian food labels food shopping card healthy eating healthy living labels

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