If you know a thing or two about nutrition, you will already know that when comparing 2 products, you use the ‘per 100g’ column so you can draw the comparison. You have probably also spent hours scrutinising the numbers on the nutrition panel. But what other than the numbers can you look at? Here are the simple things that don’t require you to be a number cruncher…
1. HOW MANY INGREDIENTS? The FEWER ingredients, the better. A long list of ingredients generally indicates a high degree of processing. The more processed a food is, the less nutritious it is. AIM: no more than 5 ingredients in a food. AN EXCEPTION: natural muesli.
2. COULD YOU BAKE IT YOURSELF? Again, check the ingredient list to find out. Do you have these ingredients in your pantry? Can you pronounce them without sounding the word out? If you do and you can – chances are this is a healthy food product. AIM: no numbers, no words you can’t pronounce. AN EXCEPTION: Lecithin (322) is a natural substance found in egg yolks & soy beans, and is added to foods to hold them consistent (e.g. it keeps the cocoa & cocoa butter in chocolate from separating)
3. SPLITTING INGREDIENTS – the lower down the list an ingredient appears, the less of it is used in the food product. So…sugar should NOT be the 1st or 2nd ingredient listed! But food manufacturers have become crafty…now there is a trend to split the TYPES of sugar added, so that they can be listed further down the list. Golden syrup, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, dextrose are all just sugar – and will add into the sugar total of your food. AIM: for <15g sugar per 100g in cereals & biscuits. AN EXCEPTION: when fruit is listed high in the ingredient list – it will be a more nutritious product than something that uses the afore mentioned sugars.
4. ‘NATURAL’ – there is no food law covering the use of this term. Food manufacturers will use it to make you think it is a healthy food. Don’t forget that sugar, fat and salt are all ‘natural’. So while your food is ‘natural’, it could also be very well be high in an ingredient that you are trying to keep low. AIM: don’t be fooled when ‘natural’ is plastered across the box; don’t choose a food based on the fact that it is in recycled/brown cardboard packaging. Check the ingredient list, it won’t lie! AN EXCEPTION: Fresh fruit & vegetables – you can’t get any more natural than that!
5. PRO-ATHLETE BRANDING: Food companies like to use popular athletes to make their product seem healthy. Research shows that shoppers choose an athlete-endorsed product (believing it to be healthier) over an identical unbranded product. Compare the swimmer-endorsed muesli bar versus a Carman’s muesli bar. One is a standout for being healthier! AIM: remember that the brand without the fancy packaging is often the smaller company that produces the healthier, less processed product. AN EXCEPTION: I am still searching for one! Has anyone seen an athlete-endorsed broccoli?