Dr. Zack Turner on what to read on food labels

Welcome to the weekly Ask Doctor Zac column on news.com.au. This week, Dr. Zach Turner is helping with the question of reading food labels correctly.

QUESTION: Hey Dr. Zach, I found myself looking at a food label the other day but realized I had no idea what I was looking at – what’s good, what’s bad, and a potential heart attack in progress?! Can you help me with a code cracker so I can understand what I’m actually looking at? – Jackson, 27, Cairns.

REPLY: It’s important to check nutrition labels, but it’s even more important to actually read them and understand the nutritional value of the foods you’re eating. This is something that should be taught in detail in schools across Australia. Obesity is the leading cause of death in Australia, as well as throughout the western world, and this is one easy way to prevent it.

Also, if we focus on schools and include not only nutrition education but also a cooking app, we can change the culture of tuckshops into health stores. The same can be said about the absolute junk, which is quite often sold in hospitals. Surely if we cared more about the caregivers/nurses and teachers in our society, we should be making sure they were at their peak nutrition?

So why should you read food labels? There are a number of reasons. First, you actively make informed food choices and evaluate the nutritional value of your food. Here’s a quick game – grab one piece of junk food from your pantry and read the nutrition facts label. You will get lost in saturated fats, additives and chemicals. Heck, half the food in many foods, especially those with a long shelf life, contains so many preservatives that I’m sure they’d have a hard time meeting our sanitary standards today.

Second, nutrition labels can help you control portions. When you understand that you have your recommended daily allowance each day, you will be able to properly control the portions of foods. So many people are obsessed with counting their daily steps, so why shouldn’t we be counting our daily vitamin intake with the same passion?

Remember that your daily intake of filth should be distributed throughout the day. This means you don’t have to eat once when you use up your daily levels of glucose, fat and sodium. I recommend that when looking at your daily amount, always break it down into quarters, using a quarter for each meal. This way you won’t hit the maximum target. Think of daily consumption as signs of speed on the road. If residential areas say 50 km, you are not going faster or it is dangerous and you will be booked. The same goes for health and food.

If you keep speeding up and breaking your food restrictions, it will come back to you. Nobody wants people to fall, so keep these limits in mind and no more than a quarter per serving:

  • Sugar (glucose and fructose) makes up 10 percent of energy from calories, so 50 grams or 10 teaspoons per day
  • Fat is found in many ingredients, but a good rule of thumb is 25 percent of your calories, or 60 grams per day, which is 4-5 tablespoons.
  • Sodium 2300 mg, which is one heaping teaspoon.

If you want to take a more active role in your food choices, you should read nutrition labels by following these simple steps.

  1. Serving Size: Start by checking the serving sizes at the top of the label. They are based on the nutritional value of the food or drink. Did you know that a serving size of potato chips is about 18 chips? This means that a family-sized bag is actually designed for the whole family.
  2. Calories: Your eyes should now be looking at the calories section. This tells you the number of calories in one serving. Be careful, this doesn’t apply to everything. Many people fall for this trap and get five times more calories than they bargained for.
  3. Macronutrients: Now you need to focus on the total amount of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Fats can be healthy, it just depends on their type – saturated or trans fats should be consumed in moderation. Carbohydrates include fiber and sugar. You should maximize fiber and limit sugar. Protein is essential for a number of bodily functions, so always prioritize it.
  4. Trace elements: Now it’s time to take a look at the little guys, vitamins and minerals. Almost all of them are essential for life, so it’s helpful to get an idea of ​​which foods contain which micronutrients.
  5. Recommended daily dose (RDI in percent): Now that you know the nutritional value of food, it’s time to understand how valuable it is. Check the RDI percentage. You are looking for foods that are low in calories but high in macro and micronutrients.
  6. List of ingredients: Finally, you need to look at what holds all these values ​​together. It’s listed in order of weight, so things at the top are more visible than things at the bottom. Here you will find annoying preservatives and additives.

These steps will help you make more informed food choices and help you avoid poor diet choices. If you have further questions, I recommend that you speak with your doctor or dietitian.

Have a question? Email askdrzac@conciergedoctors.com.au

Dr. Zach Turner holds a BA in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Sydney. He has worked as a Registered Nurse both in Australia and overseas and is a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist. | @drzacturner

Originally published as Dr. Zack Turner on what you really need to read on food labels