Have you noticed these days that a lot of food packaging these days is covered in little coloured charts and masses of numbers and percentages? This is manufacturers and Governments way of making us more aware of the food that we eat but it’s not exactly straightforward is it? This is the sort of thing I’m talking about:
So, the colours are pretty straightforward; green is good, amber is OK and red is bad but what about the rest of it? What are the percentages? How much is 30g? What’s the difference between fat and saturates? What’s a reference intake? All in all it’s pretty confusing isn’t it?
Well, this is 30g of cornflakes and it’s not a lot is it? If you are trying to lose weight you need to be really aware of portion sizes. This portion size will give you 110kcal but, if you eat double this amount, you will be taking in 220kcal and that’s without any milk, added sugar, tea and toast.
If you are counting your calories: 220kcal is about half an hour of fast paced walking……
Then we need to think about percentages but first we need to know what is 100% for each of the categories i.e. what are our advised daily limits:
Fat: a maximum of 70g per day. There is 15g of fat in an avocado and 49g in almonds but there are a great many health benefits to eating both as they contain monounsaturated (or heart healthy) fats. If you are trying to lose weight, both can be included in your daily food intake BUT in small quantities as they are high in calories: 144 cals per 25g of almonds and 160 in a small avocado
Saturated Fat: a maximum of 24g per day. 2 sausages can give you up to 11g of saturated fat or almost half your daily allowance [Source]
Sugars: a maximum of 30g per day. To give you an idea, one Mars Bar has 42g of sugar or almost 150% of your daily allowance. [Source] It’s obvious that sweets and cakes will contain a lot of sugar but you also need to be aware of the refined sugars that are ‘hidden’ in many of the other foods that you eat – next time you’re wandering around the supermarket with half and hour to spare check out the food labels on ready meals!
Salt: a maximum of 6g per day. Two rashers of smoked back bacon will take up more than half this daily allowance with 3.8g of salt
Now the chart above makes a little bit more sense; if your limit for sugar for the day is 30g then 5g for your breakfast cereal (assuming you eat the recommended portion size) is really quite a lot when you think about the other things you eat on a daily basis that contain sugar.
Sugar and salt are pretty straight forward but fats are a little bit more complicated because you can have good fats and bad fats and knowing the difference between the two will really help if you are trying to live more healthily. Basically, unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are essential to maintain a healthy body and, when eaten in moderation, can reduce your cholesterol levels. On the other hand, saturated fats and trans fats will increase your cholesterol levels if you eat too much of them and put you at risk of heart and blood pressure problems.
Examples of the good fats:
Then there are the ones that you really want to give a miss, accept on very rare occasions if you want to keep healthy. They all contain trans fats (essentially mucked about with oils) which the USA consider unsafe and will be phased out over the next 3 years. As far as I’m aware no such ban is being considered in Europe and foods containing trans fats are not required to be labelled as such despite there being a link between their consumption and types of cancer.
Whilst I’ve been writing this, I’ve realised quite how complicated all this stuff is so I’m going to try and simplify it further – without complicated terms, statistics, percentages or little charts. In fact, forget all the little labels and try to think about it this way: if something is natural and non mucked about with, chances are it’s healthy: fresh fish, lean meat, fruit, nuts and vegetables essentially. If something has been processed (ready meals, packet foods, soda’s etc) or is ‘junk’ food (take away burgers, pizza’s, fries, donuts etc) then, chances are, it will be bad for you.
Even simpler? Prepare and eat food made from natural, individual ingredients. As food author Michael Pollan says:
“Simply by starting to cook again, you declare your independence from the culture of fast food. As soon as you cook, you start thinking about ingredients. You start thinking about plants and animals and not the microwave. And you will find that your diet, just by that one simple act, that is greatly improved”