This is the dilemma many people find themselves in and unfortunately is also when all good intentions can get lost if you don't know how to interpret the product's packaging.
The nutritional information panel (NIP) on the back of the pack is the best place to start because it contains the actual 'facts'. NIPs have lots of numbers and without a guide it can be difficult to know where to start, so I've created an easy toolkit to help you to decode food labels and choose the better yoghurt! (or whatever product it may be)...
1. Per Serve and Per 100g columns:
- Use the per serve column to check the amount of energy a food contains- aim for less than 600kJ per serve for a snack. You can also use this column to see the fibre content of a product and compare to similar products.
- Use the per 100g column to compare the fat, sugar and sodium content of similar products.
2. Serving Size
This is the size the manufacturer has decided is a serve (in this case 2 biscuits). Check whether this is the amount you will actually be eating (often it isn't!)- a product may look low in kJ but this changes pretty quickly when you're eating double or more of the recommended serving size.
- Total fat: Generally go for less than 10g per 100g but for dairy (such as milk and yoghurt) aim for less than 2g per 100g and for cheese less than 15g per 100g (as these foods are naturally higher or lower in fat). Remember that total fat includes both good and bad fats!
- Saturated fat: This bad fat can increase cholesterol levels so choose products with less than 3g per 100g (or less than 1.5g if you are at risk of cardiovascular disease).
Aim for less than 15g per 100g of sugars or less 25g per 100g if it is a product with a high fruit content. Remember that it is the 'added' sugar that is most important to limit- check that sugar isn't too high on the ingredients list.
5. Dietary Fibre
When looking at products in the grain (breads and cereals) food group, wholegrain is best. When comparing similar products, choose the product with the highest fibre content- as a rough guide look for greater than 3g per serve.
6. Sodium (salt)
Sodium is the chemical component in salt which can increase our blood pressure. Foods with less than 400mg per 100g are good but less than 120mg per 100g is better. Try opting for 'low salt' or 'no added salt' products.
Ingredients are listed from largest to smallest by weight. As a rule of thumb, if sugar, salt or high saturated fat items are listed as one of the 1st three ingredients, put it back!
So next time you find yourself staring at yoghurts in the supermarket (or any other packaged food for that matter!) try turning them over and comparing their NIPs.
Note: The guidelines provided in this article are based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the National Heart Foundation recommendations.