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Every government across the world is putting a lot more emphasis on the need for more information about what we are eating. With obesity rates on the rise across the globe, the phrase "we are what we eat" has never been more prevalent, and it's time that we as a society stopped being ignorant to what is exactly in our foods.
Currently a food label contains the following break down:
- carbohydrate (of which sugars)
- fat (saturated/unsaturated)
- vitamin/mineral content
This is probably the most widely understood and misunderstood quantity that is present on all food labels. The number given is the amount of calories found in this product — but be careful because it sometimes says per serving (e.g. 30g) or can be per 100g. And often a product is much more than that, therefore its important to check how much you are consuming. For example, a bag of nuts may have a label showing the calories per serving (25g) as 250 but the bag could be 100g. Looking quickly you could think that's not many — 250 — but eat the whole bag and you'll actually consume 1000!
Calories can often be used too heavily to determine a good or bad diet, but what is more important is where those calories are from. For example something that only has 150 calories may seem great at first glance, but if 90 percent of those calories come from fat then it isn't great after all.
Generally speaking, carbohydrates are sugars, and every carbohydrate molecule is made up of single molecules of sugar. Complex carbs are lots of sugars combined and takes a long time to digest (examples are wheat and grains), whereas simple carbs are single molecules and are digested quickly and provide a fast energy burst like table sugar and honey. You need a combination of both but a lot less of the simple sugars than complex.
On food labels the carbohydrate section is often broken down into dietary fiber (complex) and sugars (simple). The higher the dietary fiber, the longer lasting the energy will be and more useful to the body over time, whereas the sugars actually contribute to your maximum allowance of sugar per day. It is important when trying to maintain a healthy diet that your foods do not contain high levels of simple sugars, but if you are trying to lose weight too much dietary fiber can be stored as fat if not burnt off.
Protein is an essential macronutrient is one of the three main contributions to our diet. On average, you should be taking in at least 1g of protein per 1kg of your body weight. For example a 70kg male should be eating 70g of protein per day. This is essential to maintain and build muscle both while training but for every day life. There are many ways to increase your protein intake and it is found in large amounts in meat and dairy.
This is normally the least important factor to check on a food label, unless you are on a high protein diet. But be careful not to take in too much because this can put stress on the liver and lead to problems in the future.