Decipher Food Labels With These Simple Tips: If you’ve ever been stumped looking at food label wording in the supermarket aisle, trying to decipher GDA from NRV’s, per 100g from per serving, kilojoules from calories and more, then you’re not alone. Translating the nutritional information on a food label into actionable knowledge can get confusing for most consumers. 

Nestlé South Africa decided to survey some of its Good Food Conversations community to uncover just how confusing nutritional information really is.

While most of the consumers surveyed recognized the importance of wellness, proper nutrition and were taking steps towards living healthier lifestyles, they also admitted they didn’t go too much out of their way to make this a reality or spend a lot of time trying to understand nutritional information. It seems availability and product loyalty motivated these consumers to purchase food products more than the on-pack nutritional information. However, when trying out a product for the first time the nutritional information became significantly more important for them.

With this in mind, Nestlé South Africa has some handy tips to help you decode on-pack nutritional information and make more informed nutritional choices going forward.

Decipher Food Labels With These Simple Tips

  • What does the list of ingredients mean? Product ingredients are listed in descending order, which means that the first listed ingredient is the main ingredient in the product you are looking at. A good rule of thumb is to look at the first five ingredients as these will be the largest component of what you will be eating. Try to choose items that have whole foods, that is, milk, whole-wheat, corn, etc. listed as the first three ingredients.
  • Evaluate the ‘per serving size. Nutritional information on a product is generally listed for each 100g of solid food or 100ml of liquid, and then per serving. The serving size is the recommended amount of food/drink you should consume, so don’t confuse the whole container for a single serving size. If you consume the serving size shown in the nutrition table, you will ingest the number of kilojoules/ calories and nutrients that are listed on the food product label.
  • Get Your GDA’s – while it may sound like a fancy degree or a secret code, within the nutrition world, GDA stands for Guideline Daily Amounts. As the name suggests this is a quick reference guide indicating the % of an adult’s GDA for energy (kJ), sugars, fats, saturates and salt contained in a serving of what you are about to eat. Guideline Daily Amounts are based on the recommendations for an average adult with a healthy weight and average activity level. But, of course, the daily energy or calories needed for men and women are different – so they also have different GDA’s for some nutrients. However, to keep things simple, rather than using two sets of figures on every label, GDA’s for women are shown as “Adult” GDA on food packaging. That way, if you’re a man, you will know that you are well within your GDA’s if you eat the stipulated serving size.
  • What’s in a number: Foods are considered low in sodium if they contain less than 120mg sodium per 100g as prepared and low in fat if they have 3g or less total fat per 100g.
  • Calories vs. Kilojoules? Calories (kcal) and Kilojoules (kJ) are both units for measuring the energy found in food. To convert: 1 calorie equals 4.184 kilojoules. You should aim to consume the same amount of energy per day as you use up in a day. According to the World Health Organisation, the average energy intake for adults is 8 400 kilojoules (kJ) per day.  If you have three main meals and three snacks a day, a good guideline would be to allocate 25 – 30% (2 100 – 2 520 kJ) of the kilojoules per meal and 5-10% (420 – 840 kJ) per snack.
  • What does Nutrient Reference Values (NRV) mean? The NRV percentage provides a quick and easy evaluation of essential nutrients especially proteins, vitamins, and minerals that the body needs to function optimally. The NRV allows you to compare the % of different nutrients in the stated serving amount and if necessary evaluate your food selections accordingly.
  • What’s not on the label – working out the unsaturated fat content? Add the total amount of saturated fat and trans-fat and subtract this amount from the total fat listed. Mono and Polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels so choose these more often.
  • Use this information to try to increase your intake of Fibre (especially wholegrain), Mono & Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3 & 6), essential vitamins and minerals such as; Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Iron, Calcium, and decrease your intake of Saturated and Trans Fats, added sugar and salt.

I must admit, I found this very interesting, and plan to make an effort to investigate what really goes into what we eat!