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Food Labels 101 - Nutritional Information Box

The nutritional information box on food products gives the average quantity of major nutrients (also called macronutrients) in that food.   The quantity is usually described in two ways:

    •  The first is "per 100g/litre", which shows how much of a nutrient can be found in 100g (of solid food) or 100ml (of liquid food). This measure lets you compare different brands or products.  
    • The second is "per serving".  This typically specifies the serving size (‘per 60g serving’) or item (‘per biscuit’). This measure helps you identify how much of an nutrient -  lets say, fat - you would actually consume if you ate that product.  

Lets have a closer look at these macronutrients.  

Protein

Protein are the building blocks that make growth and development possible. Protein also make up essential neurotransmitters in the brain such as adrenaline, serotonin, melatonin.

Health experts say that no more than 12% of the average person’s daily food intake should be from protein.   An average amount, independent of activity level or size, would be:

Male age 15-50 = 55g
Female age 15-50 = 45g
 

Why is too much problem not good for you?

Animal proteins are high in saturated fat, associated with osteoporosis, bowel cancer and other disorders.

The body cannot store excess protein, which means extra burden on the liver (storage as fat) and the kidneys (uric acid, the nitrogen by-product of protein breakdown is be disposed of in the urine).

 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates fuel body processes and physical activity.  As a result, most of our energy should come from carbohydrates – complex, as well as simple. Complex carbohydrates, or starches, are found in grains, legumes, and vegetables.  Sugars, the most simple form of carbohydrate, are either naturally present in foods ('natural' or 'intrinsic') such as fruit and milk, or added ('extrinsic').  

Carbohydrates should make up 1/4 to 1/3 of each meal.

On food labels, the following guidelines on sugar content will help you make an informed choice:  High = 15g or more; Medium = 4-14g; Low = 5g or less.

The GDA for sugar is :  Women: 90g/day & Men: 120g/day.  A more conservative (and healthier) approach calls for:

50g/day for women
65g/day for men.

Fat

There are different kinds of fat to take into account.  Some are beneficial to our health, others are not.

- Unsaturated fats are found naturally in plant products such as seeds and nuts and are beneficial to health.  These good fats - Omega 3 and Omega 6 - help us stay physically healthy, maximise our  intelligence, and reduce the risk of allergies, asthma, eczema and infections due to their anti-inflammatory and immune supportive properties.  

    • Sources of Omega 3: (ALA) in flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, (EPA and DHA) in fish and fish oils such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, tuna, eggs.
    • Sources of Omega 6: (LA) in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, sesame and pumpkin, (GLA) in evening primrose oil.

-  Saturated fats (also known as “hard fats” as they are solid at room temperature) are mostly found in foods from animal sources such as meat, dairy produce and eggs.  In vegetable form, they can be found in palm oil and coconut oil.  Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and are linked to heart disease.

-  Cholesterol is mostly made in the liver from other types of saturated fat.  Some portion of cholesterol comes from the diet and the liver's job is to compensate by producing less cholesterol intrinsically.

-  Trans fats are the worst kind of fats.  They are damaged fats found in deep-fried foods and foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils. These should be avoided.

On food labels, the following guidelines on fat content will help you make an informed choice:  High = 5g or more; Medium = 2-4g; Low = 1g or less.

The GDA for fat is:  70g/31.5% of daily diet (women); 95g/34.2% (men), of which 20g saturates (women); 30g saturates (men).

A more conservative (and healthier) approach calls for:

Total fat (saturated + unsaturated) = intake of maximum 20% of calories per day.
One gram of fat equals 9 calories. Consequently, 2000-2500 calories allows for 15-18g total fat per meal (equivalent to 3-4 tsp).
Recommendation: Average saturated fat < 5g per day (equivalent to 1 tsp).

 

(photo courtesy of joestanley.org) 

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