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Ever picked up your favorite food, turned it over to look at the label and wondered what the heck is going on?
You’re not alone.
Food labeling can be seriously confusing. With so much information on food boxes and bags, that can of tinned tomatoes or box of oatmeal looks more like a mathematician’s notebook than something you’re going to eat.
We've all heard of those secret unhealthy foods, made to appear like they should be part of your diet, but that can actually wreck your progress. Common offenders include fruit juice and smoothies, diet cereals, low-fat salad dressings, meat replacement products and cereal or snack bars. Look at any of the packaging though, and any of the nasty ingredients in there are pushed to one side, to be replaced with huge slogans and graphics of how this food will help you out.
Whether your goal is to lose fat, gain muscle, or just increase your general health and well-being, you need to know what’s in your food. Simply grabbing a bunch of stuff off the shelf, throwing it in your basket and hoping for the best isn't good enough.
Before looking at what you’re not being told, let’s take a look at what the nutrition labels do say:
Probably the most important factor in deciding whether you eat a food or not is the calorie content. Calorie counts on labels are generally fairly accurate and usually at the top of the information list. You’ll usually be given a calorie amount per serving and per 100 grams.
Macronutrients are proteins, carbs and fats. Like calories, they’ll be fairly prominent and listed in grams. Most foods will again give values per serving and per 100 grams.
These are your vitamins and minerals. You won’t get an exhaustive list, but will be able to see the main ones. As the amounts are so small, it’s not unusual to see them listed as a percentage of your GDA (guidelines daily allowance.)
These have to be on the packaging, along with any ingredients or information on additives that can trigger common allergies or reactions, such as soy, nuts or gluten. Ingredients are listed in order of amount.
For things like cereals, cakes, pies, yogurts, and so on – basically any larger items that are bigger than single-servings, there’s a suggested serving size per person and a total number of servings for the whole product. This can be extremely deceiving however, but there’s more on this a little later.
From all this, it seems that the food manufacturers are pretty much on point, and looking to give you as much information as possible, but consumer beware.