Food labelling is a sneaky business. And sometimes the manufacturers will do everything that can to give you as little information as possible. Over the years I’ve had hundreds if not thousands of people ask me pretty much the same question. How do I lose this and then most people grab their gut and shake it about. My standard response is to tell them for that information people pay me a lot of money. Or something facetious like “have you tried putting the fork down?” Then I’ll ask a couple of sensible questions. One thing that I have noticed from a lot of these conversations. Is that people are insanely confused by food labels. I want to give you guys some clarity.

Jargon Busting

RDA – recommended daily allowance. “Average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.”

RDI – recommended daily intake- “Recommended (or reference) daily intake, the quantity of a particular nutrient which should be consumed daily in order to maintain good health.” https://www.lexico.com/definition/rdi

AI – adequate intake “established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA and is set at a level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy” which is fine, but it doesn’t detail out what it’s adequate for… I’ve been told that adequate intake and the RDA is what’s required to delay death. Not to promote health.

UL – tolerable upper limit “maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.” Research that I’m reading is now showing what used to be a tolerable upper limit is now becoming a baseline for good health.

Direct from https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx, this is how they detail out food labelling. 

“Helping the consumer make better choices for a healthier diet

  • Reference Intakes (RIs) are used on nutrition labels on packaged food.
  • Reference intakes are set by European law, as a guide for the amount of energy and key nutrients that can be eaten on a daily basis in order to maintain a healthy diet.
  • The values are maximum amounts based on an average female adult. They are not individual recommendations and your needs may well be different to the RI, depending on your age, gender and how physically active you are.*
  • There are currently no RIs that can be used specifically for children.
  • Food labels show the percentage of the RIs that is provided per 100 g/100 ml and/or per portion of the food item.” Directly copied and pasted from the site above. 

*Let me draw you attention back to the third point here. The maximum amounts are based on average FEMALE adults!!! What fucking good is that to a bloke who wants to improve his health? Particularly is the guy has no nutritional knowledge and is relying on the information from the food company and the food label!  

This is what pisses me off about food labels. They are only a calorie estimate for what’s contained in the food. The good thing about European law is that there is only allowed to be a small margin of error. Even then, it’s still only an estimate.

The Ingredients List

The law of food labelling is seriously strict. This is great because after you’re done with this article, you’ll know exactly what to look for. According to food.gov.uk the rules for the ingredients list state that “If your food or drink product has two or more ingredients (including water and additives), you must list them all. Ingredients must be listed in order of weight, with the main ingredient first according to the amounts that were used to make the food.” This is the rule for food manufacturers.

This means that when you read an ingredients list, what you read first is in the greatest quantity. What you read last is the least amount in that particular packet.

Bangers and mash, you’re assumption is that you’re getting more sausage than anything else. Let’s have a look at the ingredients. Fair play to tesco.com for the detail they have on their website for food labels.

INGREDIENTS: Mashed Potato [Potato, Skimmed Milk, Butter (Milk), Salt, White Pepper], Yorkshire Pudding [Wheat Flour, Water, Egg White, Egg, Rapeseed Oil, Dried Skimmed Milk, Salt], Pork Sausage (18%) [Pork, Wheat Flour, Water, Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Dextrose, Stabiliser (Sodium Triphosphate), White Pepper, Parsley, Mace, Yeast Extract, Ginger, Sage, Nutmeg], Onion Gravy [Water, Onion, Cornflour, Tomato Purée, Chicken Extract, Rapeseed Oil, Caramelised Sugar, Muscovado Sugar, Wheat Flour, Vegetable Juices (Carrot, Mushroom, Onion), Garlic Purée, Sugar, Salt, Thyme, White Pepper], Peas, Carrots.Wheat Flour contains: Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin.Sausages filled into natural casings

This is how the label looks on the packaging, it’s hard to read! Specially if you’ve never really looked a food label. Let’s break it down, below what I’ve down is actually separate out each individual ingredient. And put them in number order.

INGREDIENTS:        

1. Mashed Potato [Potato, Skimmed Milk, Butter (Milk), Salt, White Pepper], 

  1. Yorkshire Pudding [WheatFlour, Water, Egg White, Egg, Rapeseed Oil, Dried Skimmed Milk, Salt], 
  1. Pork Sausage (18%) [Pork, WheatFlour, Water, Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Dextrose, Stabiliser (Sodium Triphosphate), White Pepper, Parsley, Mace, Yeast Extract, Ginger, Sage, Nutmeg], 
  1. Onion Gravy [Water, Onion, Cornflour, Tomato Purée, Chicken Extract, Rapeseed Oil, Caramelised Sugar, Muscovado Sugar, WheatFlour, Vegetable Juices (Carrot, Mushroom, Onion), Garlic Purée, Sugar, Salt, Thyme, White Pepper], 
  1. Peas,
  1. Carrots.                                                                                                                                                                                              Wheat Flour contains: Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin.Sausages filled into natural casings 

Following the rules laid out, you can see here the most abundant ingredient is mashed potato. Followed by a Yorkshire pudding and then you get your sausage.  When looking at the ingredients anything inside square brackets [potato, skimmed milk, butter, salt, white pepper] details out what the preceding thing is made of. In this example it’s the mash.

The traffic Light System

This is a great system if you know how to read it. Obviously the more green the better, but just because it’s a red doesn’t always mean that it’s a bad thing.

Let’s take the example of the bangers and mash dinner ready meal.

What we know now is that the reference intake is “The recommended (or reference) daily intake, the quantity of a particular nutrient which should be consumed daily in order to maintain good health.” This is usually displayed as the percentage, what you can see here is that this pack contains 33% of your daily fat allowance. 35% of your saturated fat allowance, 12% of your sugars and 40% of your salt allowance for the day. These figures are based on what the government have suggested. In particular public health England are the people that set the recommendations.

Like I said earlier, a lot of the suggestions they make are only to delay death or suggested levels to not induce disease! Not to promote health. Any way I digress, looking at using the traffic light system is a good guide. It won’t be optimal for improving health. But it is practical for people who don’t know much about food, calories and nutrition.

The more of the green you can find on food labels when it comes ready meals, or prepacked foods the better. But like I said if you know your calorie and macro allowance, you can afford yourself a little bit of red. Make sure though as men you’re watching that salt, sugar and excess fat intake. Fat in itself isn’t bad to eat. You just need to eating the right amounts and to be exercising!

 

The Nutrition Table

I find using this table very useful. The good thing about using pre-packaged food is that you know how many calories are in the whole pack. As you can see here in the right hand column, each pack 404g. The table says typical values because like I said before, they can only estimate the calories. There are a lot of factors that go into the how many calories are in food. Things like where on the tree the fruit grew. How much sunlight has the food been exposed to and were there adequate nutrients in the soil all impact the calorie count.

You can see the % scores they have given here are based on a 2000 calorie a day intake. But if your BMR like mine is nearer 3000 calories, that means the percentages for this particular pack of food goes down. The BMR is your basal metabolic rate, this is how many calories your body would burn if you laid in bed and did nothing but breathe. Once you get up and start moving around your need for calories goes up. Let’s say your BMR is 2000 calories, now let’s say you’re a builder with an active job. Your calorie demand now might go up to 2700, then because you’re going to the gym you now might need 3000 calories to fuel your body. If losing weight is a goal for you then sticking around 2500 calories a day might work for you. But that’s a separate blog which I’ll follow this one up with.

Summing It Up

Food labelling has gotten much better and much more transparent. Also rememebr to check out my other blogs that cover subjects like, building muscle, the best diet for fat loss and the one about stress. The reason is because they’re all relevant to food and how knowing a food label can help.

Key points to remember are these.

  • Use the traffic lights. The greener the better
  • Ingredients must be list in the highest amounts first and the lowest amounts last
  • All ingredients must be listed
  • Ingredients in [square brackets] mean they’re showing a recipe of what an ingredient is made of
  • Percentages are based on government recommendations that are very, very vague
  • RDA’s are set to delay death or stop disease not promote health
  • Always check the calories per pack or check the weight of the total pack and do the maths to scale up the ‘per 100g’ detailed on the food label.
  • Remember that calories are a guide when they’re listed, that’s why all food packaging says typical values.

Any more questions about food, calories, nutrition and how much you should be eating. Fire them over as always. I love to hear from you fellas.

Big love

Deano.