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Understanding Food Labels

With an ever-growing concern about our health, it can be really important to not only partake in regular exercise, but to also understand the types of foods we are putting into our bodies each day! It may not be the top of everyone's priority list, but as a Personal Trainer it is part of my job to help take the guess work out of the meal planning and prepping for you.

Following a gym plan from home can be easy - we're overwhelmed with workouts online, and a number of personal trainers / gym instructors available locally - but the saying is true... "abs are made in the kitchen." Now, I'm not expecting everyone to want abs quite so literally, because we each have our own health goals, but consuming a healthy diet is important throughout life to help us try to avoid ill-health. With an ever-increasing ability to pick up fast food rapidly (and cheaply) I can understand why so many families may opt for buying these types of foods as opposed to cooking a meal from scratch. A sharing chocolate bar is cheaper than a pack of apples and understandably most people would opt for the chocolate; similarly, a pack of chicken nuggets and chips is likely cheaper than a whole chicken to roast and a packet of potatoes - buying cheap ingredients is a no-brainer for most families.

It's becoming more apparent to me that a lot of people DON'T know how to cook from scratch, so let alone be able to shop more consciously buying healthier ingredients, following the advice of food labels. The UK government and NHS updated the food labelling system in the UK to help us to more easily understand what we're consuming, to hopefully cut down on foods high in saturated fats, salt or sugars, with the view in the long run we may be able to reduce obesity across the country. It seems through lockdown that many people have taken up extra exercise sessions in order to make a change to their health... I know how hard it can be however to cut down on chocolate during such crazy times!

Firstly, the traffic light system has become well recognised design across almost all food packets within supermarkets in the UK. It tells us the calorie content of the product, as well as fats, saturates, sugars and salts, coloured either red, amber or green depending on their content. Food packets that show many red sections should be consumed in very small amounts, and should be cut down to a minimum within our diet. Packets that show amber sections are neither high nor low, but should still be consumed in moderation. Green sections on the packets signify that the product is low in a particular section and show they're a healthier option.

It is important to have small amounts of fats, sugars, salts, carbs and proteins within our diets to provide a variety of nutrients but using the traffic light system can really help us to understand more of what we should be eating, and less of what we shouldn't! Saying this, the traffic light system isn't the only labels we should look at on our food products, and unfortunately they can still be a little misleading... so here are my top things that you should be aware of when trying to consume foods more consciously for a healthy lifestyle!

  1. "Reduced fat content!" - this doesn't mean the product contains 0 fat... it just contains less fat than it used to! Instead look for products that are "Low in Fat".

  2. Ingredients are listed in order of how much is in the product; if butter/sugar/oil is listed as one of the first ingredients then it likely means this product isn't very healthy for us! Look for natural ingredients listed first as this product is going to be a lot better for your health.

  3. "No Added Sugar"... there's still sugar in this product!!! Carbohydrates and fruits for example are naturally more high in sugar, so should still be eaten in moderation.

  4. "Sugar - Free" may mean that other sweetener products have been added instead, but they may therefore cause alternative problems to our health over time if we consume high amounts. Look for ingredients such as aspartame, or saccharin - these are names used for sweeteners but research is ongoing to suggest that they can have effects such as heart disease!

  5. "Low Calorie" - this is great if you're counting calories alone, but again they may have had certain ingredients swapped out for alternatives that could cause health problems at a later date! (Not all products will cause problems, but there is ongoing research in this area.) Sometimes it's also important to consider the rest of the nutritional info, and whether it's beneficial for our health.

I know this can all still sometimes be confusing... I don't want to be the scrooge of eating habits because then it becomes such a chore to want to even think about food! The best advice I can therefore offer is this; eat as many natural products as possible, cook from scratch as often as possible, keep fast food/takeaways to an absolute minimum and check the ingredients lists of your packets - any type of food where you don't recognise the majority of the ingredients names, then I would likely avoid it, or at least only eat it once in a blue moon. P.S do your squats, eat your veggies and drink your water!! 🏋🏼🥦💧

Still have questions? Please don't hesitate to get in touch, I'd love to be able to help you further in creating a healthy, happy lifestyle. AJR x

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