Does nutritional information seem like a foreign language to you? For many, trying to put the advice of healthy eating experts into practise is both time-consuming and confusing, but the new system being launched by the UK government is set to tackle this.
After discussions with health organisations and food industry representatives, the new front of pack labels will combine traffic light colours and nutritional information in a consistent format to clearly show how much fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar and calories are in a portion. The scheme has already received the backing of major high street retailers, as well as food production giants, and will be entering stores soon.
Here are some tips for reading labels to ensure heart health is on your shopping list:
The traffic light colours show how high (red), medium (orange) or low (green) the levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt are in a portion of the food. For a healthy diet you need a majority of green labels each day, some orange choices, and one or two red labels to allow for your favourite treats. The colours are great for comparison; use them to choose the brands or types of food that have green or orange labels for saturated fat and salt for a heart-healthy diet.
The number of calories in a portion will be clearly displayed so you spot high calorie foods that could lead to weight gain if you eat more than you burn up. On average women need 2000 calories per day and men 2,500. You could also dig deeper and check that the calories in the food aren’t just coming from fat, saturated fat and sugar.
When it comes to heart health the type of fat is important; some foods such as oily fish, olives and seeds may have red labels for fat, but these are heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and shouldn’t be avoided.
Don’t forget the missing bits – vitamins, minerals and antioxidants won’t appear on the front label but are essential for a healthy heart and body, so make sure you pile the fruit and vegetables in your trolley to get your five a day. Fibre won’t be visible up front but as it supports good digestive function and helps promote healthy cholesterol levels remember to choose wholemeal bread, rice and pasta to boost your intake and keep you feeling full for longer after a meal.
We are ‘habitual’ shoppers; if biscuits and cereals are always on your list try going for some that are lower in saturated fat, sugar, or salt. Tackle one type of food at each visit, for example ready meals or packaged meats like sausages and bacon, to gradually make healthier choices and avoid doubling your shopping time.
It really pays to digest the small print. Start becoming food label savvy now and in no time you’ll soon be in the habit of putting heart-healthy foods firmly in your shopping basket.