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Decoding Food Labels to Eat Well

Decoding Food Labels to Eat Well

8 months ago by Oliver Szklarz

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The typical trip to the supermarket has grown increasingly difficult over the years, with the abundance of choice, point of sale advertising as well as confusing food labels that can create a headache when trying to buy the right foods. It’s tricky trying to calculate your requirements through the nutrition labels (what even is a ‘serving size’) and the Health Star Rating system, so we’ve put together a guide on how to best navigate your next shopping trip!

What are Health Star Ratings?

The Health Star Rating system is a labelling system designed to quickly and easily compare the nutritional value of similar products, based on a rating from a half star to five stars – the more stars, the healthier. Keep in mind, the system is designed to help compare similar products within a certain category. You can find the Health Star Rating Fact Sheet here. Although the system can be a quick guide on choosing healthier options, it’s worth noting that it shouldn’t replace general dietary advice outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The system has also received some criticism due to the fact that it is not compulsory; some manufacturers even deliberately only labeling 4 or 5 star products deemed to be healthier.

Three of the easiest ways to stay on track

Head to the market

Australian cities are spoiled for choice when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables, with the best of the best often located at our markets. You won’t find fresher produce at a better price! Plus you’re often able to try things you wouldn’t normally find and you’ll be supporting local farmers directly. The market will also allow you to buy organic and artisanal varieties of your favourite pantry items as well as boutique meat, fish, cheese and small goods. You might even stumble across something new that you can’t get enough of, or find a hidden gem. My personal favourite – the Polish delicatessen at the Queen Victoria Market, which traditional Polish sausages, meats and even sweets! What’s not to love?

If you can’t get to the market?

If you’re time poor and visiting your nearest supermarket is most convenient for you, avoiding the centre aisles is best. You might have noticed that the fresh food is located on the outer edge, so sticking to this part will allow you to skip the label nightmare altogether!

If you have to explore the aisles, the easiest way to choose your products is using the ‘per 100g/ml’ information on the nutrition panels. Serving, portion and package sizes vary greatly between brands and products so sticking to a consistent measure is the best way to compare the essentials. Watch out for high sodium and sugar content too! Pro tip: a teaspoon of sugar or salt is about 4 grams - knowing this can help put food labels into perspective, allowing you to make a healthy decision on what to buy (and how much to eat).

Seek advice from a Dietician

Consulting a dietician is a great way to help calculate your dietary requirements and put together a healthy, tasty and most importantly, varied diet. Eating a clean and healthy diet doesn’t have to be bland, boring an uninspired. Your dietician will be able to shed further light on the pros and cons of the food labelling system and help guide you towards better options for your goals.

Although these are great ways to stay on track with your diet and will hopefully help you on your next grocery run, we’d recommend seeking the assistance of a dietician or nutritionist to provide you with professional advice on your current diet habits. Trust me, the last thing you want is to be eating my diet…it gets pretty bland when you only eat for fuel, rather than flavour! You can read about my fitness journey here.

If you have any helpful tips or tricks to decoding supermarket food labels, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us via email or feel free to give me a call on 03 9963 4804.

Oliver Szklarz

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