A Beginner’s Guide to the Nutritional Information Panel
Food packaging can be the most deceiving element in the process of adopting a healthy lifestyle. A label on the front of a food packet can suggest that it contains healthy contents by including pictures of fruits and vegetables, or using words or phrases such as ‘natural’, ‘hearty’ or ‘made with real ingredients’. These tactics are employed by food manufacturers to influence consumer perception that certain food products are a healthy choice, when in reality, they are jammed with sugar, sodium or saturated fat.
The nutrition information panel is an underrated yet critical tool that can help consumers determine the nutritional composition of various edibles. However, in most cases, this asset is overlooked or ignored, partly due to its complicating and confusing nature. Therefore, individuals resort to trusting the misleading phrases planted on the front of products.
The nutrition panel allows an individual to compare the nutritional contents between products, determine the serving sizes within products, and most importantly, conclude whether a particular product is in fact ‘healthy’, or riddled with sugar and salt. However, in order to reap the rewards that the nutritional information panel offers, being able to understand and evaluate the information on the panel itself is essential.
When approaching a nutrition information panel, two separate columns can be identified. These two columns are titled ‘Per Serve’ and ‘Per 100g’. The per serve column will include the amount of the nutrient in accordance with the recommended serving by the food manufacturer. This column is useful for determining how much of each nutrient is being consumed, assuming the portion size is equivalent to the serving size. The per 100g column includes how much of each nutrient is within 100g of the product. This column is useful when comparing two similar products e.g. if an individual were to compare two different brands of yoghurt, the per 100g column would be ideally used. Understanding the difference between these two columns is paramount when determining which product will be the healthier choice, although it is not the only factor to take into account.
Foods are primarily comprised of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. These three macronutrients can be found in the nutrition information panel. The amount of carbohydrates, fat and protein between different products will vary, therefore it’s important to understand how much of these macronutrients is considered to be healthy.
The type of carbohydrate that should not be consumed in large amounts is sugar. When selecting a product, aim for 15g per 100g or less. Fibre is also a key carbohydrate to look for on the panel. Foods with 3g of fibre or more per serve are recommended. Saturated and trans fat intake should be limited and avoided in larger quantities. When selecting edibles, total fat should generally be around less than 10g per 100g. As for saturated fat, less than 3g per 100g is an appropriate target. Finally, it is important to ensure the protein being consumed within foods are being delivered through a variety of sources such as low fat dairy, lean meats and lentils.
It can be quite confusing at first, although by simply emphasising the importance of selecting foods high in good carbohydrates and protein, whilst avoiding high amounts of sodium, saturated fats and sugars, the entire method may become easier. Reading the information panel of everyday foods will not only put into perspective how unhealthy a lot of alleged ‘healthy’ products on the market truly are, but it will also allow a healthier and nutritionally mindful lifestyle to establish.