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How to improve the health of your shopping basket...part 2

6 Aug 2012 3:20 PM - Learning to read nutrition panels and labels...

About 6 weeks ago I wrote the first part of this series on how to improve the health of your shopping basket.  That article looked at tips for saving time and improving your nutrition.  If you missed it, you can read it here

In that article I mentioned the importance of reading nutrition panels, so here I will talk some more about that so you know what to look for and what to ignore. 

There's no need to get too technical and you don't need a science degree.  It is possible to keep it simple.  You might find you take a little longer to do your shopping initially as you spend some time comparing cereals, breads, crackers etc until you find the one that will suit you best. 

So, some basic tips guaranteed to improve the "health" of your shopping basket: 

  • Ignore all the "hype" on the front or back of the packet.  Remember, it is just marketing.  It's bright, colourful and designed to be persuasive.  The bigger and bolder the hype the more suspicious you should be.

  • Just because something says it's "cholesterol free" or "low fat" or some other health claim doesn't automatically mean it's healthy.  Potato chips are cholesterol free (cholesterol is only found in foods containing animal products) but that doesn't mean they are healthy.  They can still be very high in salt and fat which may not be what you need to be consuming.

  • The humble apple, banana, tomato, carrot and other fruit and vegetables generally don't come in bright packets with lots of health claims but they are probably some of the most nutritious foods you will find in the supermarket.  They don't need a label or ingredients list to tell you what they are.

  • Learn to look at the ingredients list.  Ingredients are listed in order of quantity from highest to lowest.  Think about what you would expect to find in that food and then look at the ingredients.  Where do your expected ingredients appear?  They should be the first ones. (How many times have you looked at a packet saying it contains "blueberries" or similar healthy food only to find they are the last ingredient...they've practically been waved over the packet!)

  • The more ingredients in a food, generally the more processed it is.  So, look for options with fewer ingredients.

  • Be wary of ingredients lists that contain lots of numbers (additives, flavourings, colourings, preservatives etc) or words you can't pronounce that sound like they came out of a laboratory.  

  • Be wary of hidden sugars.  Ingredients that end in "ose" such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltose are all forms of sugar. Also ingredients ending in "ol" like mannitol or sorbitol. Sometimes sugar sneaks in, in disguise.

  • Learn to read nutrition panels and compare products.  Make sure you are comparing the same size measure (eg per 100gms).  Don't just look at kilojoules.  Consider fibre content (higher is better), sodium (salt) content (lower is better), sugar content, protein, saturated fat and total fat.   

It can get very confusing, trying to compare.  Your particular choice will depend on your own health needs and may be different to someone else.  You might be focusing on lower salt whereas someone else might be trying to boost their fibre.  But don't give up.  It will be worth it, and you will learn a lot for the benefit of your long term health. 

And if you are really stuck and would like some help working out what's best for you, perhaps you would like to book a personalised shopping tour with one of our naturopaths. We will take you shopping, show you how to read labels and together, we will work out what is best for you and your family. 

Got any questions?  Feel free to contact me by email or at the clinic on 03 9620 9503.  I am more than happy to answer your queries.


Love yourself; love your health,



Kaye Wright
Naturopath
Melbourne CBD

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