Here are a few things to watch out for.
Usually water and/or protein, which may be added to bulk out a product artificially. Look out for: textured vegetable protein (usually soya), added animal proteins, vegetable proteins from milk (whey, casein) or cereals, and E450 (polyphosphates), added to frozen and chilled chicken to increase water content.
Improve flavour, consistency and “mouth feel”. Look out for: palm oil (mainly saturated fat), hydrogenated fats (turning cheap vegetable oil into hard fats), trans fats (by-product of hydrogenation).
Sugars can be hidden in many clever ways. Look out for the following:
- brown sugar, corn syrup, hydrolysed starch, fructose, glucose, glucose syrup, demerara, dextrose, invert syrup, lactose, maltose, raw sugar or treacle.
- high fructose corn syrup (highly processed) is sweeter than sugar for the same calorie content. Made from corn in a process that converts corn starch to glucose and then fructose. It also makes foods go brown (used in cakes, pastries, bread, crackers, breakfast cereals) and stops ice crystals forming in ice cream.
Also present in many foods. Look out for the following:
- acesulfame-K, aspartame (in chewing gum, yoghurt and “diet” soft drinks), saccharine, sodium cyclamate (or cyclamic acid and E952, found in soft drinks), thaumatin.
- bulk sweeteners include isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol, found in ‘diabetic foods’, ‘tooth-friendly sweets’, ‘sugar-free sweets’. They carry the warning, “excessive consumption may produce laxative effects.”
To convert sodium to its salt equivalent, multiply by 2.5. Too much sodium leads to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Most of the salt we consume comes from pre-packed foods (ready-made meals, snacks, sandwiches, fast food, cakes and biscuits).
On food labels, these guidelines will help you make an informed choice: High = 0.6g or more; Medium = 0.3g; Low = 0.1g or less.
The GDA for salt is 6g/day.
A more conservative approach is not to consume more than 2-3g/day. At three meals per day, that represents 1g per meal.
(photo courtesy of joestanley.org)