Many of us know the key to a healthy diet is to limit the amount of processed foods we eat and to include plenty of wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes in our diet. But the reality is processed foods are convenient and often a staple of our regular supermarket shop.
It's helpful to know that not all processed foods are created equal and if you understand the information on a Nutritional Information Panel (NIP) it can help you make healthier food choices for you and your whānau.
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Here’s our top tips for understanding and using food labels:
1. Use the per 100g column
Most processed food labels contain a per serve column and a per 100g column. Serving sizes vary so it’s best to read the per 100g column to compare between products.
Most NIPs refer to sugar in grams, so remember 1 teaspoon = 4 grams of sugar. It’s recommended that adults eat no more than about seven teaspoons of sugar a day.
As a guide, food that has 15g or more per 100g is considered high in sugar. Anything under 5g of total sugar per 100g is low. Read more about how to cut down on sugar.
You should aim to eat no more than 6g of salt (sodium) per day. Salt is added to many foods, such as processed meat and sauces so it can be hard to know how much salt you’re eating each day and what 6g of salt actually ‘looks’ like.
A good rule of thumb is to choose foods containing less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. Foods containing 600mg per 100g are high salt choices and should be avoided. Read more about salt.
4. Saturated fat
All fats aren’t created equal – unsaturated fats don’t increase our risk of heart disease and are often referred to as good fats. Look for foods low in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats but remember that too much fat, even healthy ones, can cause weight gain.
5. Look at the ingredients list
The ingredients on an NIP are listed in order from the largest to smallest quantity. For example, if sugar is listed first it means it makes up the highest percentage of that product and is probably best avoided!
6. Compare products
Remembering all the different food recommendation is hard work, especially if you’re rushing to the shops after work or have little children helping with the grocery shopping. When you’re buying processed foods one of the easiest things you can do to make sure you’re making healthier choices is compare similar products to each other and remember the three S’s – sugar, sodium and saturated fat, and choose the item with the least amount.