I have to confess I’d never really looked at food labelling. Occasionally checking ingredients list to check for nuts (for a regular allergic visitor) or calories (if I was on one of my periodic diets)….but never as a matter of course. Back in February, armed with little more than determination – I started shopping by ingredients. My first rule, and one I still stick to, is no added sugar or sugar substitute.
Problem number 1 is recognising sugar/sweetener in all it’s guises. Appearances on the ingredient list include:-
- Sugar (that’s the easy one – and can be preceded by “powdered”, “icing”, “brown”, “date”, “granulated”, “castor”, “cane”, “Demerara”, “Beet”, – to name just a few!)
- Corn, rice or maple syrup (in fact anything followed syrup)
And then there’s the artificial sweeteners…
- Acesulfame Potassium
Is it just me, or does it feel like sugar is deliberately hard to recognise?
The next issue is naturally occurring sugar – so for example – pasta which lists ingredients as 100% Durum wheat semolina….but the packaging shows 72g of carbohydrates of which 3g is sugar (per 100g of uncooked pasta). This is where using the colour coding on the front of packets is really useful. (Sadly it is not yet compulsory or completely consistent)
I found portion size differences means that the top line of figures is pretty useless – what matters is the bottom row of percentages – and, at a glance the colour of the box the percentage is in. Green for good/low, amber for medium & red for high. So – if you are in a hurry….a quick check that the sugar box is green will keep you from going astray. Getting as many greens as possible – means you are minimising fat & salt too.
Interestingly – thanks to years of demonising fat – many of the “diet” products have a healthy green box for fat….but amber/red for sugar. They took out the fat – but added sugar to help replace the drop in taste, that removing fat caused. You aren’t necessarily getting low sugar with “healthy” products.
Be prepared for your first shopping trip to take much longer than normal, as you squint at packaging trying to decipher ingredient lists – and be prepared to be shocked as you find sugar in the wierdest of products. Like stock cubes. Yes, really!