The Breakdown on Nutritional Labels

The main point of nutritional information on packaged foods is to provide you, the consumer, with a breakdown of the main nutrients in the food (for example proteins, carbohydrates, fats and energy).

The nutritional label on packages can be confusing. The first thing you need to understand is the energy. Kilojoules (KJ) and calories are two different forms of essentially the same thing. The bottom line with KJ/calories is that the more you eat the more you need to exercise to burn off those extra calories. Therefore, choosing products that are low in KJ/calories will allow you to not exceed your daily food intake and help to maintain a healthy weight. Next up is protein, any value for protein is good but anything above 7g per 100g denotes a high protein product (you would expect tuna or yoghurt to have a high protein value). Fats are the one thing people focus on these days. You can usually find the total fats, which you would aim to be fewer than 10g per 100g or less and the saturated fats (or bad fats) to be around 2g per 100g or less. It is more important for this value, saturated fats, to be as little as possible, because foods high with this value can cause heart disease over time.

Carbohydrates and sugars are classified in the same area, as when you break them down, sugars make up complex carbohydrates. For carbohydrate products you want the value to be 30g per 100g or less. This would indicate a low GI product. The next acceptable level would be 30-70g per 100g; this is most breads, cereals and pastas. Anything above 70g per 100g would be considered high and most likely not an appropriate food choice. Sugars are found in a lot of processed foods and can be the culprit in people not losing weight. Ideally if you want to make a nutritious choice you would aim to choose a product that is less than 20% sugars. For example, a breakfast cereal has 69g per 100g of carbohydrates and 22g per 100g of sugars, equating to 22% of sugars. Therefore, I would not necessarily recommend this product as something to consume daily, without further information regarding the product. However, it may be fine to consume occasionally.

The final value to be cautious of is the sodium content of packaged foods. Anything above 400mg per 100g is too high in salt and should be avoided. With today’s society and the addition of extra salt on foods it’s best to avoid any excess salt in foods – especially for those people with blood pressure problems or heart concerns.

There are many food label claims on products like “99% Fat Free”, “Low Fat”, “low salt”, “High in Fibre”, “Good Source of Omega-3”; the list goes on. You cannot just take the manufacturer’s claims as whole truths, and you will need to look more carefully at the nutritional information. For example, just because something is fat free or low fat does not necessarily mean it is good for you, as it may contain a high amount of sugar; that is why all of the information on the nutritional panel should be compared between products.

When using food labels to make nutritious food choices you must remember to compare the nutritional panel on the packaging and in doing so this can be an effective way to make sound choices in your everyday eating.

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Fats: The Good and The Bad

An everyday healthy diet should include some forms of fats, preferably the “good” ones, as they can be beneficial to your heart health. There are many different kinds of fats found in foods and it can sometimes be confusing, so let’s look at them and figure out which ones you can keep in your diet, and which of those we should eliminate.

There are 2 main types of fats: unsaturated fats (good fats) and saturated fats (bad fats). It is recommended by many health organisations worldwide that for a healthy or low fat diet you should include foods that contain good fats.

Unsaturated fats are “good” fats as they can help to improve blood cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy heart. Unsaturated fats are predominately found in plant foods like; vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats which help to lower LDL (low density cholesterol, the bad cholesterol), and raise HDL (high density cholesterol, the good cholesterol). Foods such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, some nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans), and sesame and pumpkin seeds are all high in monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are great to help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure and aid in brain development. Great food sources include flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, soya beans, walnuts, and oily fish. Both types of unsaturated fats should be included in your diet, preferably instead of saturated fats.

Saturated fats are the “bad” fats and having too much of this in your diet will cause your body to increase its total cholesterol levels by increasing your LDL levels, thereby increasing your risk of heart disease. An important point to remember is that the mix of saturated and unsaturated fats in your diet, not the amount of cholesterol you eat from food, is what has a greater influence of your total cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products like meats and chicken with skin, and full cream dairy products (milk, cheese and ice-cream). There are a few plant-based products which are high in saturated fats, namely coconut oil and palm oil. These types of food should be limited in your diet and always try to opt for a low fat option.

The best piece of advice in reference to fats is to try to limit the amount of saturated fats (from red meats and full cream dairy products), and replace them with unsaturated fats. This way your body will receive the important fats it needs to function efficiently.

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Snack Attack

Snack AttackSo here we are, back again with another nutritional post to help you with your eating. A big thank you to those of you who got involved and asked question here on the blog, over on our twitter or even on our facebook page. Remember the more you get involved the more we know about what you need help on. And that leads us onto today’s post.

Since our last nutritional post we have had a lot of our clients asking us about the best snack choices.

So that is the theme of this weeks nutritional post.

You might be thinking that snacks are what you need to stay away from if you are trying to look after yourself. However they are crucial in helping you achieve long term health and weight control.

Whether you are after muscle gain, increased performance or weight loss, ensuring you have adequate fuel through out the day and a consistent blood sugar level will prevent you from getting overly hungry. When we are hungry and haven’t planned adequately we tend to snack on the wrong types of foods to give ourselves a quick kick of energy. This is what we are trying to avoid.

So what are the best things for us to snack on?

Well particularly for body fat loss, as that is what most people want to know about, protein is one of the best options to help you ward off hunger. But it is important to remember what we brought up in our last nutritional post. Relying on supplements and foods that are artificially produced is not the best option. Look for unprocessed whole food sources of protein first! Portein bars and powders definitely have their place, especially when we are talking about rapid uptake post exercise. However as a general rule you need to focus on real food when snacking just as much as at your main meals.

Now we need don’t want to get stuck on just eating protein when snacking. It is not a magic bullet. We need to address the other macronutrients as well (macronutrients are your grouped nutrients of carbohydrates, fats and protein). Would your dinner consist entirely of protein? A steak or chicken breast on it’s own is no one’s idea of a complete meal option (and if it is that’s got to change pretty quickly), so why should your snacks be any different. Snacks should have a little from each macro nutrient group.

Remember carbohydrates are not the enemy. Your body wants and needs to run on it. But as we mentioned last week in “Eat real food and your body will see real benefits” you need to make your body work for the energy it is to get. Your snacks need to be viewed in the same way. Go for things with as little human intervention as possible. Things your body needs to work at to unlock the energy.

It is also important to remember all of your snacks need to be just as controlled in their portion size as your main meals are. Get carried away and you will be fighting an up hill battle and may end up putting on body fat.

If you are someone who is not currently eating snacks and you want to add them into your diet something will have to give. It is not enough just to add a morning and afternoon snack into your day or you are just eating more each day. You will need to cut back the size of your breakfast, lunch and dinner. The plan is that you will be able to do this without getting hungry as you will be stabilising your blood sugar level across the day and avoiding a big drop off in energy.

Remember we want you to combine carbohydrates, proteins and fats for the ideal snack options.

Now that all of that is said and done here is my list of snacks that get my tick of approval:

  • Fruit
  • Fruit salad (always a better option as variety will help, but watch your portions)
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit balls
  • Berries
  • Olives
  • Naturally fermented pickles
  • Tuna
  • Sashimi
  • Smoked salmon
  • Shredded turkey
  • Shredded chicken
  • Lean ham
  • Nuts (unsalted!)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Simple omelette
  • Seaweed salad
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Trail mix
  • Avocado
  • High quality natural full fat yoghurt (yes full fat, not low fat and full of refined sugars)

Remember to watch your portion size with all of these as it is easy to get carried away. Take your snacks to work with you daily in tupperware containers so as you take only as much as you need for morning or afternoon. Otherwise you might end up polishing off a whole packet of almonds or something similar.

Suggestions for the list?

Questions about things I have included? Let’s hear em!



Health Benefits Of The Humble Egg

Eggs are considered a complete protein food, as they contain all the 9 essential amino acids that your body needs to produce proteins, and each serve contains 6 grams of protein. They are also one of the only foods that have vitamin D naturally occurring in the product. This allows you to get your daily dose, without having to rely on getting outside in the sun. Eggs are a great source of Choline; this is an important nutrient that is used in many ways to help the brain, nervous system and the cardiovascular system function.

Another great benefit of eggs is that they are good for eye health; eggs contain a high level of 2 important carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin. They are essential for our body and help to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, eye diseases that come with age.

Eggs are also great for healthy hair and nails. As they contain a high amount of the compound sulphur (and other vitamins and minerals), they are reported to help your hair grow faster, stronger and healthier. You can either consume more eggs in your diet; around 1-2 a day has been reported as ok, or even use eggs as a mask to wash your hair.

There have been numerous studies that state that people who consume eggs for breakfast on a regular basis are more likely to experience weight loss. People are more likely to lose more weight than those who consume a carbohydrate breakfast, as well as increased energy levels and a feeling of satiety.

Now the most important point, eggs (the yolks) are high in cholesterol; however you don’t need to be scared about eating them. Many recent studies are now stating that eggs are ok to include in your daily diet as it is saturated fats, not cholesterol found in eggs, that will increase your blood cholesterol levels. So eggs are the good guys here – they are a great source of good fats.

Like most foods, the way you cook eggs will affect their nutritional value. When the yolk of the egg is broken (and scrambled) and cooked, the proteins and fats are damaged and destroyed. Therefore vary how you have your eggs, boiled, poached, and occasionally scrambled and you can enjoy the many benefits that eggs have to offer.

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Vegetarian Diet


What is a vegetarian diet and what are the benefits for people who choose to adopt this way of eating? There are many reasons people choose to follow a vegetarian style of eating, including religious beliefs, thinking red meat is harmful to their health, or even a moral reason in regards to the animals’ right to live.

Individuals who follow vegetarian diets do not eat animal products including meat, chicken and fish. They do eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, grains, seeds and nuts, and sometimes dairy products and eggs. There is no single type of vegetarian diet, just differing degrees of vegetarianism. Vegans follow a strict diet of no animal meats or products. Lacto-vegetarians eat plant foods as well as dairy products, and lacto-ovo vegetarians eat plant foods as well as both dairy products and eggs.

There are many benefits for people who adopt a vegetarian diet, such as lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol (as red meats are extremely high in both), and a higher fibre content and complex carbohydrates through beans/lentils and vegetables. These people are beginning to adopt this way of eating to improve their overall diet and to help prevent chronic diseases (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gallstones).

There are concerns for some people who follow a vegetarian diet not getting enough of certain vital nutrients for their body. The main vitamin that vegetarians may become deficient in is vitamin B12. This vitamin is only found in animal products and therefore individuals who follow this type of eating may need to include a supplement in their diet. Sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians may include dairy products, eggs and foods (mainly cereals), that have been fortified with B12. There are some other minerals which some vegetarians may find themselves lacking: calcium, iron and zinc. There are many great non-meat sources of these minerals and a well-thought-out diet will ensure that your diet is never lacking in these minerals. Choosing foods such as iron-fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, whole wheat breads, peas, wheat germ, milk products and pumpkin seeds, calcium-fortified soymilk, calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice, tofu and some dark-green leafy vegetables will allow you to have a range of these minerals in question.

In today’s society there is an abundance of options for vegetarians in our supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. A lot of nutritionists and health institutes recommend meat-free days to give your body a rest from eating and processing meats (also for the health impacts on our environment, and the cost of meat in comparison to non-meat meals). If you are deciding to change the way you eat and want to adopt a vegetarian diet, it is important to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains/beans, dairy products and eggs (if so desired), to ensure a well-balanced intake of all vitamins and minerals. There are many athletes who follow a vegetarian diet and with the right balance are able to obtain the best performance for their sport. Always ensure that you have done your research about what you are eating, and ask a qualified health professional (dietician or nutritionist) for advice and guidance in this area.

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Fructose Malabsorption

What is this problem that is prevalent in today’s society? It is the intestines’ inability to absorb fructose into our body. The fructose from foods therefore passes into the lower intestines and begins to ferment, causing gases and other by-products. Fructose (if you don’t already know), is the sugar that is mainly found in fruits. Food malabsorption (or intolerance), is very different to food allergies and the two shouldn’t be confused. Food allergies are where an immediate reaction occurs in response to a certain food, such as difficulty in breathing, rashes or swollen lips (and may be life-threatening). A food malabsorption (such as fructose), develops over time, affecting your immune system and in some cases, (10%), people never experience the symptoms.

Around 30% of adults may have malabsorption of fructose and will experience common symptoms like bloating, abdominal cramps or pain, diarrhoea, constipation, increased gas, reflux, nausea, vomiting, headaches, migraines, hypoglycaemia and other aches and pains. Not only are these symptoms associated with the fructose malabsorption, but our body misses out on the vital nutrients from these foods, like iron and calcium. The symptoms may not always be very noticeable however; they may be more noticeable after consuming very large quantities of sugar.

Fructose malabsorption can be caused by stress or inflammation of the intestinal system or even through genetics. However, it is possible for your doctor to diagnose this through a hydrogen breath-test.

There are many foods, not just fruits, which contain fructose. These include some vegetables (asparagus, green beans, shallots, garlic, and leeks), some grains, as well as sports drinks, sugar-free substitutes and high fructose corn syrups (HFCS), which are found in many processed foods and drinks.

The best way to manage fructose malabsorption is to reduce your intake of foods which contain a high level of fructose. Some studies suggest that taking glucose (another form of sugar) with meals can help with the absorption of fructose. Each individual will have their own level of fructose malabsorption and will therefore need to modify their diet according to symptomatic relief. Always when addressing this sort of issue speak with a health professional (your doctor or a qualified nutritionist/dietician). There are also some reputable websites which go into this issue and other similar food intolerances in more detail, check out http://www.foodintol.com/sugar.