This label reading tip could save you hours in the supermarket

Written by Mellissa Hay, Accredited Practising Dietitian

There is one thing we can all agree on – label reading is a tricky skill to learn and can add hours to your grocery shopping, precious time that could be spent with friends, family or fitting in your daily exercise.

I was chatting to Susie recently who asked “I’ve tried so hard to read the labels but it’s just so time consuming. I just want to know if the foods I’m choosing are good ones, can you help me?”

Susie went on to rattle off at least half a dozen food products she wanted to know about including sugar free biscuits; high fibre white bread; dark chocolate and low GI sugar to name a few.

Does this story sound familiar?

It’s such a common story so I thought it’s time to share some advice that has helped many in the past…including myself!

When it comes to choosing healthy products the best starting point is to keep it simple and use your common sense. There are some foods that nourish our body and mind by providing essential nutrition like vitamins, minerals and fibre to help our body and mind work at its best and help us fight off illness.

These are our nourishing “EVERY DAY” foods and drinks and fall into 3 key categories:

  • The 5 core food groups: wholegrains, vegetables and legumes, fruit, unflavoured dairy products and lean protein sources (including nuts and seeds). The key with these foods is they are minimally processed so they retain their nutritional value and they contain little if any additives like added salt, fat or sugar. When you refine wholegrains to make white bread or turn them into biscuits, these are no longer nutritious “EVERY DAY” options.
  • Healthy fats for our brain, cells and essential vitamins such as olive oil, avocado and fatty fish.
  • Water to keep our brain, body and metabolism ticking over.

Then there are other foods and drinks (usually processed and far from their original form) that either provide us with little (if any) vitamins, minerals or fibre (like Susie’s sugar, white bread and biscuits) or may have large amounts of health harming ingredients like added salt, added fats and/or added sugars. These are not essential foods or drinks and, regardless of what you find on the label, should only be eaten sometimes and in small amounts.

9 times out of 10 if you ask yourself this one question you will have your answer before you even pick up the product. Ask yourself:
“Will this food nourish my body or give it essential nutrition?” or simply put “Is it a healthy every day choice?”

If the answer is no then don’t waste your time reading the label, just know that you should only eat this food occasionally and in small amounts if at all.

The easiest way to do this is to base your choices as much as possible on whole, fresh, unprocessed foods. This will have huge benefits to your health and save you countless hours in the supermarket too! Now that’s a win – win situation if you ask me.

Label reading can be very useful to fine tune healthy choices or to identify ingredients or additives you might want to avoid. If you’d like to learn more about what to look for on the labels you can go to the NDSS label reading fact sheet here. 

Or book into one of our Shop Smart programs running at various locations around NSW here.

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes

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