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How to read food labels – weight loss tips

Posted in Personal Health 17 May, 2012

Recently a number of high street supermarkets received criticism that their food labels for similar or even identical products were misleading to consumers. The study, reported in the Guardian, may seem insignificant, but with the number of people suffering from obesity and excessive weight, knowing how to read food labels correctly and understanding what they mean can be crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Weight loss in general is all about approaching the right areas of lifestyle and adjusting them accordingly if necessary. Most often this includes hitting the gym, pulling on those running shoes or taking part in the latest craze like Zumba or Spinning. But many individuals looking to lose weight often stumble as they are not aware of the best ways to alter or track their dietary habits. For example, food labels that contain nutritional information that are printed on packets of food can be extremely helpful if they are read correctly.

Learning how to read food labels can help you to use that information to buy foods that complement weight loss instead of hampering it. Let's have a look at a standard food label:

How to read food label1

It may look a bit complicated at first, but it's easy enough to understand once you know what you're looking for. These are the most important aspects of a food label to pay attention to:

  • Energy = Calories in kcal(kilocalories)
  • Fats = Saturated Fat usually measured in grams (g)
  • Sugars in grams (g)
  • Sodium - Salt in grams (g)

Calories is what the body burns in order to function properly. As in the diagram, it can be calculated for a 100g serving and for the entire pack. For a healthy lifestyle, the amount of calories consumed every day should not exceed your recommended daily intake. Many people attempting to lose weight try to reduce their daily intake to slightly below the recommended amount.

Fats are probably the most important food label next on the list because avoiding excess fat is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight. However, not all fat is bad for you and the body does actually require it. But high levels ofsaturated-fats, the bad form of fat, should be avoided in order to lose weight. Generally speaking, as per NHS guidelines, total fat of anything higher than 20g per 100g serving is considered unhealthy and for saturated fat anything above 5g per 100g should be avoided. For weight loss, saturated fat should ideally be below 1.5g while general fat should be below 3g.

Increased amounts of Sugar can contribute to over eating as they make us crave certain foods that have such large quantities. Try and keep the amounts around the same level as fats, 5g per 100g. Anything above 15g is considered high.

Finally, salt or sodium which is found in many preserved foods. Excess salt can contribute to the development of a number of conditions, including high blood pressure. Make sure the amount of salt is also fairly low and never goes above the recommended 6g per day.

How to read food label2

This an example of the "traffic-light" label as discussed in the article, which indicates red, yellow and green levels of each group ingredients. While this form of nutritional representation has its merits, the study demonstrated that traffic-light labels can be used by some supermarkets in a misleading way. This is why it is particularly important to always check the more comprehensive food label, as discussed above. In this example, it is clear that the levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt are all very high. Looking at the food label in addition to the traffic-light label would give you a far clearer idea of exactly what the high quantities are, so you can factor it into your daily intake.

These five factors to look out for are fairly easy to spot and learning how to read food labels and doing so regularly will help weight loss efforts. Reduce the amounts of saturated fats and fats, avoid excess salt and sugar intake, and make sure that the number of calories eaten throughout the day are enough to meet your daily needs or reduced enough to assist weight loss.

If you have particular difficulty reducing the amounts of fat you're consuming and absorbing, consult your doctor about possibly trying the weight loss medication Xenical. It's highly effective in reducing the amount of fat inside the body, particularly when fat is a large part of your diet.


  • JessTuesday, May 22, 2012

    Really great article, I think a lot of people don't know what they're looking for on the back of a food label. Which number is the most important one though for losing weight?

  • ChrisTuesday, May 22, 2012

    All of them are important for weight loss generally, but if you're just interested in the one it would be calories. Reducing the amount of calories you eat every day is the best way to lose weight. But don't reduce to much otherwise your weight may fluctuate.

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