Food25th January 2014

Food Labelling

It is difficult to eat healthily if you don't understand what is good and bad for you. Food labelling explained.

by Sarah Lawrence

As I approach ‘mid-life’, like so many of my friends and family I am finding little bumps of weight that I would rather were not there. Consequently, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to look at what I eat. Looking for a bit of help for a low fat/sugar diet from someone who knows about these things,

‚ÄčI spoke to a diabetic friend of mine. I must confess to being ignorant about just how much sugar has been introduced into the food chain in the UK and how difficult it is to find no or low sugar food. It seems I have become a sugar addict and didn’t even realise it.

Being a diabetic my friend needs to eat as little sugar as possible. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Living a healthy lifestyle, my friend has had 50 years of being able to eat what he liked without having to worry too much about the exact content of the food and drink being consumed. Becoming diabetic turned that on its head and the attention to detail kicked in. That proved to be very enlightening, a lesson in food content that I am now leaning.

Sadly, I am old enough to remember the days before there was too much processed food, when our mothers used to prepare meals using almost entirely fresh produce. There weren’t too many fast food outlets or frozen products back then. I must confess that I have lived through our change in eating habits totally oblivious to the extent to which sugar, fat, salt and other additives have come to the fore.

Working as many hours as I do, I really enjoy a good take away and the meal deals offered by food outlets such as Mark & Spencers. I realised of course that chips and Macdonald’s burgers are far from a healthy options, but I’ve never been too sure about a typical Indian, pizza or Subway meal. Do you know the good, bad or indifferent nature of what you eat? I certainly didn’t. For me, I had fallen into the trap of convenience and speed being most important.

The good news is that a lot of food packaging now contains a lot of the nutritional information we need to make good choices. However, how many of us bother to look at it and even if we do, how many of us understand what the information needs. With some packaging, the information is so small, even 20/20 vision isn’t good enough, you would need to be carrying a magnifying glass to decide whether or not to buy. I’m amazed there is not a Government requirement for a minimum text size.

The one thing the Government has done is to provide a Guideline of Daily Amounts (GDA) for men and women. The problem for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people is that official publications explaining these guidelines and food packaging use unsuitable complex language and I am yet to see any of this information explained in BSL. Quite simply, it is another set of Government policies that have not considered the communication/cognitive needs of deaf people in its implementation.

For women the GDA are:

Nutrition Typical Pizza
Calories 2000 1560
Sugars 90g 27.6g
Fat 70g 60g
Saturates 20g 28.2g
Salt 6g 6.4g

So, by reading across from the Guideline of Daily Amounts (GDA) to the nutritional information for a typical ham and pineapple pizza, you can see that this one 9 inch pizza has over the daily recommended amount of salt and saturates, close to the amount of fat and calories, and 30% of the sugar allowed each day. As one of my three meals a day, this is not good for me and not recommended. The high level of sugar makes it unsuitable for diabetics.

By looking at the labels I have been shocked to find how much sugar, fat, salt and saturates are used in so many products and things I thought were good for me, actually aren’t. In particular, there are so many products that are not ideal for diabetics. So, what is on these labels and what does it mean?

Different products have different nutrition information. Some products don't have the information at all, particularly if it is imported, but there are a lot of labels out there. At a most basic level, the nutrition label will show the information detailed in the GDA – calories, sugars, fat, saturates and salt. Food labels usually show the information in that order and some labels are colour coded.

However, it is important to read what the label relates to. The pizza example above states next to the nutrition information, ‘half of pizza contains’. On a packet of fried chicken straws, the label reads, ‘each straw contains’. This is important, as a food’s content might appear reasonable when simply looking at the nutritional values on ther label, but 35 calories on a label becomes a lot more if you have to multiply it by the 15 straws in the pack.

More complex food packaging provides a lot more useful information into vitamins, protein, fibre, carbohydrates, break down of fat content and more. Whilst this is useful, it provides a level of complexity that is beyond most of us. For me, I am simply going to try and get my head around the basic labelling.

I’ve identified that my love of pizza might not be too good for me, but grapes, they are bound to be ok – aren’t they? A typical pack of grapes weighs 500gms. As with a lot of labelling the nutrition label relates to 100gms (about 20 grapes). Against my GDA it reads like this:

GDA 20 Grapes
Calories 2000 70 (good)
Sugars 90g 15.4g (good)
Fat 70g 15.4g (not good)
Saturates 20g trace (brilliant)
Salt 6g trace (brilliant)

So 20 grapes generally, are good for me and an ideal snack instead of a chocolate bar, the only down side is for diabetics, because they have quite a lot of sugar.

Finally I’m going to compare two favourites of mine, some ready to eat roast chicken breast slices and a packet of crisps.

GDA Chicken Crisps(40gbag)
Calories 2000 145 (good) 210 (ok)
Sugars 90g trace (brilliant) 1g (good)
Fat 70g 2.6g (brilliant) 11.5g (bad)
Saturates 20g 0.7g (good) 1.7g (ok)
Salt 6g 1.2g (ok) 0.8g (ok)

With the exception of fat content, this particular brand of crisps are not as bad for me as I might have thought, and with the exception of quite a high salt content, the chicken is an excellent choice for lunch. Both have low sugar content so suitable for diabetics.

In asking for advice on food types my eyes have been opened to what is good and not so good for me. I have discovered that sugar in particular, is in a lot more food that I had realised, including many of the meals I would put up for my family without thinking about it. Things like lasagne, curry, and pizza of course. I used to whizz around supermarkets picking up what was convenient, it is now time that I slow that down and start to pay some attention to what I am eating and feeding my family. It is all about balance and getting into good practice.

Most importantly, if I can cook from fresh, there is a far greater chance that it will be a highly nutritious meal without any of the side effects!

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Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Food

25th January 2014