Get to grips with food labeling and the recommended daily calorie intake with the help of The Nutrition and Health Foundation –
27% of Irish consumers never read food labels
It is further apparent from last night’s episode of Operation Transformation, that Irish people do not understand food labeling and its importance or are aware of the recommended daily calorie intake. According to a recent survey published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on Consumers’ Attitudes to Food Labelling, although one quarter of consumers said that they always consult food labels when shopping for food, 27% said they rarely or never consult them.
“Whilst It is encouraging to see that the percentage of consumers who always consult food labels has increased to 25% since 2004, when only 8% said they consulted food labels all of the time in a survey conducted by Safefood 2007, we still need to increase the number of people using food labels to help them make better food choices”, says Dr. Muireann Cullen of the Nutrition and Health Foundation.
Those most likely to consult food labels were people who shopped for all of the household groceries and females; with 48% of these groups saying that they always or usually consult food labels. Those least likely to consult food labels were people who did little of the household shopping (less than half to none); with 44% of this group saying they rarely or never consult labels.
In general consumers consider food labels informative and the reasons most often given for reading food labels were to look for information on nutrients, calorie content or specific ingredients. More than six in ten people are now concerned about healthy eating (safefood 2007), which may explain why looking for nutrient information and calorie content are now top of the list of reasons for consulting food labels.
“As most people are aware, the leading causes of death in Ireland, namely heart attacks, strokes, and various types of cancer, claim thousands of lives every year”, says Dr. Muireann Cullen, Manager of the Nutrition and Health Foundation. “Scientific studies have documented over and over again the role a healthy diet plays in dramatically reducing one’s risk of these diseases and at a time when obesity levels are reaching an all time high, the importance of knowing what you are eating cannot be stressed highly enough. Programmes like Operation Transformation are a fantastic way to highlight the dangers of obesity”.
For people following the series, the NHF website www.nhfireland.ie offers further support with easy and simple-to-use information on making smarter choices when it comes to eating and exercising. It also gives detailed information on recommended daily calorie intake for both men and women and appropriate portion sizes. Personal food and exercise diaries can be downloaded to keep track of what you are eating and your progress with tips on healthy eating and how to stay motivated. There is also a detailed section on how to read food labels.
“They may not look like it, but food labels may be some of your best friends when managing your diet, cholesterol and weight. Consumers can sometimes find the information on food packages to be confusing. However, once you learn to read a food label, you’re well on your way to making healthy food choices. Foods can tell you a lot about themselves. So don’t just purchase the first product you see, let the label help you find out more about the foods,” concluded Dr Muireann Cullen.
NHF’s top tips on reading food labels:
- A list of product’s ingredients. This listing is a legal requirement and tells you what is used to make the product. The ingredients are listed in descending order, so the ingredient that was used in the greatest amount will appear first on the list.
- Check outside for what’s inside. Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA’s) make it easier for people to select and enjoy a mix of foods suited to their individual needs. More and more food labels contain GDA’s so it is important that you can read, understand and use them to make informed choices about the foods to purchase. Looking at the percentages on the label can give you a quick idea of what percentage of your daily intake of fat, salt, sugar and calories are in one serving of the food.
3. Pay close attention to serving size and to the number of servings per container. These are often overlooked, but are very important when choosing and eating foods for healthy living.
4. Compare products. If you want to know whether or not a food is high or low in a particular nutrient or want to compare the nutrient content of similar foods, then check out the nutrient content per 100g or per 100ml. This will help you decide on the healthier choice.
5. Calories do count and whether they come from fats, sugars or proteins is very important, too. Once in awhile, it is a good idea to count all the calories you eat in a day. This is fairly easy to do just by adding up the calories per serving listed on the nutrition facts labels for all the foods consumed during the day.
- Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus. This means additional nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre have been added to the product.
- Sugar-free or fat-free. Check the label as even if a food is low in fat or sugar, the food may not necessarily be low in calories.
8. Be aware of your salt intake. Irish adults are advised not to eat more than 6g salt/day. So if you see, a sodium value on a label, multiply that number by 2.5 to get your salt intake e.g. 0.4g sodium = 1g salt.
For further information visit www.nhfireland.ie