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.