One of the most valuable tools you can arm yourself with when hitting the grocery shops, is the knowledge on how to decipher labels. Being able to read labels gives you back the power to make informed choices about what you put in your body.
Yes your yogurt may have a huge label screaming LOW FAT but how much fat is considered low fat? And low fat in comparison to what? And how come it still taste so good? Is it because there’s triple the amount of sugar in it? Answer: yes. What’s better, low fat and high sugar or full fat with little sugar? Maybe the yogurt with the wholesome looking farm on it would be better for me, and then I’ll be supporting local farmers….even though I live in Australia’s most urban city and there are no local farmers? Hmm nar I’ll just play it safe and get the one that that skinny, shinny haired Instagram model eats every day for breakfast because she is GOALS!
Unfortunately the above inner dialogue will be a familiar scenario for a lot of readers, whether it be about yogurt or another packaged product on the shelves of your local grocery store. In Australia there are little regulations on the marketing of food products. In the majority of cases it is up to the manufactures and their very sneaky marketing teams to decide what to slap on the packaging. And in a large number of cases (not all, the entire food industry isn’t evil) they do so based on what they know will sell. Low fat, no added sugar, organic – these are all titles plastered on products, to fit in with the current lifestyle and diet trends of the time. These labels are usually in big, bright banners that are impossible to ignore to ensure they make their way into your shopping baskets and through the checkout.
So how do you make sense of all the labels without spending 20 minutes analysing every single item on your weekly grocery list? You turn straight to the back of the package to the ingredients list. Despite limited regulations in Australia, there is one that they all have to stick to – ALL ingredients in the product must be listed, and they must be listed in descending order. So the first ingredient on the list is the ingredient that is present in the highest quantity.
Take for example the below images, they are both very similarly marketed packaged soups . As we can see in the first image, the first ingredient is water – this is because you fill the cup up three quarters of the way to make the soup. But after that it is all pretty straight forward, a total of 14 ingredients.
The second image, now that’s a different story with other 30 ingredients! And a lot of these ingredients are numbers – enhanced flavouring and preservatives - definitely not natural products.
I know which option I would be going for - it would be the one that doesn’t take me 20minutes to get through the ingredients list, or have me reaching for Google to find out what hydrolysed groundnut protein is.
Wondering what the numbers mean? In a lot of cases what it boils down to when the compound is broken down by your body is extra sugar. In an age that is obsessed with cutting sugar out of their lives, manufactures have had to get sneaky about hiding the abundance of sugar that is in their products. Manufactures aren’t secretly conspiring against you to get you fat like Cady does to Regina in Mean Girls. They use sugar (in part) to help preserve packaged foods (and make them taste sweeter to increase your craving for them). Without these sugars and additives products would have a MUCH short shelf life and it would be harder for manufactures to make bulk coin if they were constantly throwing away spoilt food.
Sugars are also used as a cheap form of filler to get you more bang for your buck – instead of spending more on quality ingredients to give you a more nutrient dense product, they shove in some cheap fillers. The prime example of this is white bread. Bread is made from grain kernels which are naturally a golden-brown colour. The kernel consists of three parts, the first is the bran which is fibre dense, then the germ which is the nutrient dense component and then the endoplasm which is starchy. White bread is made only from the endoplasm which means that other ingredients are added to plump it up including high fructose corn syrup (sugar). This adds more bulk to the bread and, alongside bleaching agents, turns it into the crisp white colour primary school lunch boxes are often overflowing with. In comparison, wholemeal breads are made using the whole kernel, this keeps the colour closer to its natural state (the brown colour kids tend to turn their nose up at) and maintains the nutrient dense components that provide fibre, pivotal to ensure those bowels are in fine form.
HOT TIP: Numbers = additives and all of the following names = sugar
Brown sugar, Cane juice, Corn syrup, Dextran, Dextrin, Dextrose, Diatase, Fruit juice concentrate, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, High fructose corn syrup, Maltose, Maltodextrin, Turbinado
As a general rule, here at FHW we stick to products that are as natural as possible because they will generally have next to none of the above hidden ingredients in them. This means sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store – meat, dairy, fruit and veg - and only ducking into the middle aisle to get things like brown rice, oats, tea and of course who good forgoes a good old block of 70% dark chocolate.
Hopefully this will make your next trip to the grocery story a little less time consuming! If you have any questions you can email us via the CONTACT page.