Have you been reading nutrition labels WRONG all this time? Why you need to look closely at the amount of carbohydrates in your food
- Number of carbohydrates on a nutrition label also includes the number of sugars
- A sugar is a type of carbohydrate, as well as starches and dietary fibre
- But the business doesn’t have to give the amount of dietary fibre always
- Diabetics, in particular, need to note the amount of sugars to maintain health
The number of carbohydrates on a nutrition label is made up of sugars, starches and dietary fibre, making it extremely important for diabetics, in particular, to decipher what the total amount is per serving.
While many Australian nutrition labels separate ‘sugars’ and ‘carbohydrates’ as though they are different entities, a sugar by nature is a type of carbohydrate and its amount in grams is included in the total number of carbohydrates.
For example, Carman’s Apple Pie and Custard Oat Bars appear to separate the sugars and carbohydrates per serving, with sugars totalling 3.6 grams and carbohydrates totalling 16.4 grams.
While many Australian nutrition labels separate ‘sugars’ and ‘carbohydrates’ as though they are different entities, a sugar by nature is a type of carbohydrate and its amount in grams is included in the total number of carbohydrates (stock image)
For example, Carman’s Apple Pie and Custard Oat Bars appear to separate the sugars and carbohydrates per serving, with sugars totalling 3.6 grams and carbohydrates totalling 16.4 grams
Those 3.6 grams of sugar are actually included in the 16.4 grams of carbohydates, with the remaining grams of carbs – 12.8 grams – made up of starches and dietary fibre, which do not need to be spelled out individually unless a product claims to be ‘high in fibre’ under Australian law.
It’s important for diabetics in particular to understand how sugars and carbohydrates are listed on nutrition packaging so they can manage their blood sugar levels.
Australia’s Food Standards explains that carbohydrates are in most foods, like bread, cereals, rice, pasta, milk, vegetables and fruit.
‘Carbohydrates in the nutrition label includes starches and sugars. Foods with high amounts of starches are white, wholemeal and wholegrain varieties of breads, cereal, rice and pasta, root vegetables and legumes,’ the website read.
‘Sugars are a type of carbohydrate and are part of the carbohydrates in the nutrition label as well as being listed separately. The amount of sugars includes naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit, and added sugar.
‘Note that products with “no added sugar’ nutrition claims may contain high levels of natural sugars. The nutrition information panel does not need to include fibre unless a nutrition claim is made on the label about fibre, sugar or carbohydrate, for example “high in fibre” or “low in sugar.”‘
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THE NUTRITION PANEL
When reading the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP), pay close attention to the serving size, the number of serves per package and a breakdown of nutrients in the product.
The per 100g column comes in handy here when you are comparing the nutrients between products, as serving sizes are simply declared by the manufacturer and can vary from product to product.
The second thing to take into account on the NIP is energy, which is measured in either kilojoules (kJ) or calories.
The NDSS reports that the amount of energy each of us needs depends on many factors and will vary from person to person.
You should limit your intake of discretionary or junk foods – i.e. those that have more than 600kJ per serve.
While carbs are not bad for you, you should keep an eye on them because the words ‘total carbohydrate’ includes both the sugars and the starches in food (stock image)
If you are looking to make a healthy and nutritious food decision, it’s vital you look at the amount of fat a product has.
How much fat?
* Aim for less than 10g per 100g with the total fat.
* With milk and yoghurt, look for less than 2g per 100g, and with cheese, opt for those with less than 15g per 100g.
* Saturated fat should be limited to less than 3g per 100g.
‘”Total fat” includes all polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans fats in the food. It’s important to consider both the amount and the type of fat,’ the NDSS reports.
With the total fat amount, Eat For Health recommends you should aim for less than 10g per 100g.
With milk and yoghurt, look for less than 2g per 100g, and with cheese, opt for those with less than 15g per 100g.
Saturated fat is the worst type of all, and should be limited to less than 3g per 100g.
What are the other words food labels often use for sugar?
* Golden/maple syrup
* Maple syrup
* Brown/caster/raw sugar
While carbs are not bad for you, you should keep an eye on them because the words ‘total carbohydrate’ includes both the sugars and the starches in food.
The ‘sugars’ amount tells you how much of the total carbohydrate is made up of sugars.
It includes both added sugars and natural sugars such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit.
Keep these down to stay healthy and if you want a quick way of identifying how much of your food is sugar, check the ingredients list.
If sugar or one of the other words for sugar like stevia, fructose, glucose, syrup or honey are one of the first to be listed, you know you’re in trouble.
How much salt?
* Choose products with under 120mg per 100g.
Sodium is one of the most important things to look at on the NIP.
Where possible, choose products with ‘reduced’ or ‘no added’ salt.
Alternatively, choose products with under 120mg per 100g.
THE INGREDIENTS LIST
If you want to quickly see what a product has in it, check the ingredients list – which must see all ingredients be listed in descending order by weight.
If sugar or fat or one of their ‘other names’ are towards the top of the list, chances are the packaged food isn’t that good for you.
As a general rule of thumb, opt for products with whole, natural ingredients and try to pick packaged foods with small lists.
Food manufacturers often use nutrition claims on their packaging to attract the shopper’s attention.
While the claim may be true, it may also be misleading – so it’s useful to know the meaning of nutrition claims.
The label ‘reduced salt’ might have you reaching for the item and placing it in your shopping trolley, but you shouldn’t be quite so fast without consulting the label.
Reduced salt merely means the product contains at least 25 per cent less salt than the regular product.
However, the reduced salt version may still have a high salt content.
Light or lite
You might see these words and assume they refer to a reduced fat content.
But this can also be used to describe taste, texture or colour in a food item.
For example, light olive oil is lighter in colour and taste, but not lower in fat.
You might see the words light or lite and assume they refer to a reduced fat content, but they can also be used to describe taste, texture or colour in a food item (stock image)
No added sugar
This means the product contains no added sugars, like sucrose, honey or glucose.
But the item may still contain natural sugars, like milk (lactose), fruit (fructose) or other carbohydrates, which can all affect your blood glucose levels.
Like a reduced salt label, a reduced fat tag does mean the product contains at least 25 per cent less fat than the regular product.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s low in fat.
HEALTH STAR RATING SYSTEM
The last thing to take a look at is the Health Star Rating System, which is designed to help you choose healthier foods at a glance.
Packaged foods are rated at between a half and 5 stars.
The rating is calculated according to ingredients that increase the risk of obesity and contribute to other chronic diseases. The more stars, the healthier the product.
The other nutrition breakdowns on the label are fairly simple to interpret with the total number of ‘fat’ broken down into saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, depending on what the item is.
Sodium, or salt, tends to be located at the bottom of the label, with energy – the total number of calories or kilojoules – at the top.
While this may be common knowledge for some, a number of readers FEMAIL spoke to believed sugars to be a completely separate number to the carbohydrates, and had been reading nutrition labels incorrectly for years.
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