Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From the community: “I would like to understand the nutritional information printed on food labels – I’m new to it all and don’t know what I should and shouldn’t be looking for.” Lynnette Hitchcock.
Food labels are certainly not the simple list of ingredients they used to be – they’ve evolved into complicated beasts that don’t make sense to most people. So what information is actually useful? What makes you decide to put a product into your trolley?
Let’s take a look at an example: Jungle Energy Bar (Yoghurt)
At the top of the label is the nutritional breakdown for 100g/ml and the breakdown per serving size. Make sure that you read the label clearly and understand the difference – this example is clear because it gives the nutrients for 100g and for the 40g bar.
There should also be a list of ingredients with the highest ingredient by weight listed first. You can then check the nutritional value of a particular ingredient by referring to the nutrition information panel.
When it comes to Energy, look at the serving size. This energy bar contains 760kj per bar. People with diabetes who are trying to manage their weight should compare total energy of a few products to get perspective. For example, this energy bar is a snack, but when you compare it to the energy content of an apple (273Kj) or low-fat yoghurt (425Kj) you will notice that it contains twice the amount of kilojoules. There is no reference for energy content because you have to take into account your total energy intake across the day.
The Protein content per serving may come with a percentage next to it (not found on this example). This is merely to indicate how much of the product contributes to the recommended daily allowance of the average individual: about 55g protein per day.
This is important for diabetics, especially those who are carbohydrate counting or watching their carbohydrate intake. On most labels you will see two categories “Total Carbohydrates” and “of which are sugar”. This information can be tricky to interpret: the total amount of carb is more important than how much sugar and starch there is, as all sugar and starch eventually ends up as glucose in your blood stream. The “sugar” indicated on the food label could mean added sugar or natural sugars found in the food. If we look at the list of ingredients, we see that oats appear first (highest in weight) followed by sugar and golden syrup. This would indicate that oats make up most of the carbohydrate amount, with a smaller contribution made from sugar and golden syrup. The sugar is therefore added sugar.
If you look at the label, there are 25g of total carbohydrate in the energy bar. 15g of carb is one portion, so this energy bar is closer to two servings (30g) of carbohydrate. The bar therefore has a much higher carb content than an apple, 3 Provitas or 100ml low-fat flavoured yoghurt – all 1 carb.
When looking at the fat content, take a look at the values per 100g/ml. Take note of the total fat content and then the saturated fat and trans fatty acid.
For a product to be labeled “low-fat” there needs to be less than 3g of total fat per 100g (solids) or 1,5g per 100ml (liquids). Fat-free means less than 0,5 g total fat per 100 g/ml.
Saturated fat is part of total fat and is a key player in raising cholesterol. Low saturated fat is less than 1.5g per 100g (solids) or 0.75g per 100ml (liquids). This energy bar is not low in fat or saturated fat.
Trans fatty acids have a similarly harmful affect and also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. For a product to be called “trans fat free” there should be less than 0,1g per 100g/ml.
Fibre is very important to help improve gastro-intestinal health, prevent cancers, help lower cholesterol and delay the release of glucose into the blood stream. It also helps you feel fuller for longer. These are all very positive benefits which make a high fibre product very desirable. The recommended daily intake for fibre is 25g per day (for women) and 30 to 45g per day (for men). As a general estimate, a high fibre product would be more than 5g of fibre per 100g. This energy bar just makes the grade.
Sodium comes from salt: a high salt intake has been linked to raised blood pressure in some people. The recommended daily intake of salt is 240 to 300mg per day. A low sodium product should contain less than 120mg per 100g. A sodium free product should contain less than 5mg per 100g. This energy bar is not too bad.
So overall how does the energy bar fair? The energy and total carbohydrate content of the energy bar are similar to that of a Bar One chocolate, with slightly less total fat. On the plus side the fibre content is good and the sodium content is low. I would suggest this energy bar as a treat.