These days, many of us are bombarded with advice both online and off as to what constitutes a good diet, but this advice can sometimes be conflicting, confusing and contradictory. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you take advice from a reputable source.

If you want to change your eating habits but find food labels or even knowing what to look for confusing, read qualified Nutritionist Heather Leeson’s tips on the three things to look out for on food labels.

1. Sugar

Sugar has been in the press a lot recently, and for good reason too. It’s estimated that nearly 85% of supermarket products have some form of added sugar or sweetener. This includes products that you wouldn’t think are a problem, such as yoghurts, cereals and even cooking sauces.

So why is sugar so bad for us? Well, aside from being bad for our teeth and waistlines, sugar has also been linked with increasing our risk of developing:

  • Alzheimers
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Certain cancers

So how much sugar should we be eating? The World Health Organisation recommends these guidelines:

  • Men: No more than nine teaspoons per day
  • Women: No more than six
  • Children over three: No more than three
  • Children under three: No added sugar

That might seem a lot of sugar, but most of us are having well in excess of that. The average Irish person has a whopping twenty-four teaspoons of sugar per day, which adds up to thirty-five bags of sugar per year!

How to Figure Out Sugar Content on a Label:

Look for ‘Carbohydrates’ and then ‘of which sugar’ underneath that. The amount will be given in grams. One teaspoon of sugar equals four grams so to work out the number of teaspoons, you need to divide the amount of sugar carbohydrates by four.

Take a look at the nutritional information for a Tangfastic Jellies below:

In this instance, you would divide the fifty grams of sugar by four, which would give you a result of twelve point five. That’s twelve and a half teaspoons of sugar in a hundred grams of jelly sweets, which is double the daily amount of sugar for a grown woman!

2. Serving Size

So now you know how to check nutritional value per a hundred gram, but what about serving size? The above example doesn’t tell you that the bag is actually a hundred and forty grams in weight, so if you eat the entire bag, that’s seventy grams of sugar, not fifty, which is seventeen and a half teaspoons of sugar.

Another product where people tend to eat consume lots of sugar without realising, is cereal. Take a look at the nutritional information for Honey Cheerios:

The ‘of which sugar’ Carbohydrates for a recommended thirty gram serving is thirteen grams of sugar, which is over three teaspoons. Most people have far more than thirty grams of cereal for their breakfast, eating much more sugar than they realise. Try weighing out thirty grams into your bowl and you’ll see what a small amount it really is!

3. Ingredients

The third thing to look for on a food label is ‘ingredients’. These are listed in order of preponderance, meaning that the ingredient contributing the highest amount to the product will be shown first. This also means that the first five products will usually make up the bulk of the product.

If you see ‘sugar’ or another form of sugar, such as glucose, syrup or dextrose listed in the first five products, it’s probably something you want to avoid or only have as an occasional treat. There are more than fifty-five different types of sugar in many products, and bear in mind even natural sweeteners like honey will add to our sugar intake.

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