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Registered Associate Nutritionist

Registered Associate Nutritionist

Portion sizes and reading Food Labels

 Hope you all are having a great start to the new year so far!!

So I was watching my favourite show Food Unwrapped (on Channel 4, or catch up on all 4, link is here:

Food Unwrapped

Food Unwrapped is a food tv show where they showcase where various foods come from different parts of the world,  how they are made, why they add certain ingredients etc. The show is really educational and has been broadcasting for well over 5 years. The show covers chemistry, food science but also nutrition. I only just managed to catch up from the last 15 minutes of the programme today, but tonight's topic covered food labels and portions when buying food in large packaging. The programme guides why it is better to go for smaller amounts of certain food items rather than multipacks and large packaging. So based on tonight's programme, I am going to discuss portion sizes, food labelling, and demonstrating how we can become more confident in purchasing foods with the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA's) labels on them.  

GDA was set up more than 10 years ago by the Food and Drink Federation (a collection of food industries and manufacturers) to encourage consumers to consider portion sizes whilst purchasing food containing sugar, saturated fat and salt. The idea is that the more we eat a particular product the more calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt we will put into our bodies. So the theme and idea was (and is) that these kind of foods can be eaten but as a treat, and should not be consumed often (if you choose to that is, we all have a choice I believe) The table below provides the GDA's for the different nutrient daily target for women, children and men. These figures are the recommended amounts that we should be aiming for each day, or the recommended target that we should consume, and ideally we should not exceed this figure. So for example, for salt the recommended target is 6 grams per day, so we should try not to exceed that amount or consume less than 6 grams per day. However for some of the nutrients there is an expectation. For certain nutrients we should aim for that target and not reduce the amount aimed for that nutrient. For example for Fibre the recommended amount per day is 24 grams. Consuming enough fibre per day is important for the body, also there has been various studies which has shown why consuming fibre is beneficial, which is why Health Professionals around the world made this recommendation. So if we do not aim for the 24 grams per day we actually run the risk of having various issues, so it is important to aim for that figure. The other nutrients Carbohydrates and Protein, their targets are generally achievable as these can be found in lots of food that we consume daily. However if we want to loose weight then we do need to watch the calorie intake. GDA table below states that the recommended calorie intake for women is 2,000 calories, for men this is 2,500 calories. So if we want to loose weight then we need to ensure that the calories that we have for the day does not exceed the recommended amount that the GDA recommends. If we do exceed this amount, there is a likelihood that we can gain weight. I have added a table below (taken from advising all the daily recommended intakes for the different nutrients, including children. 

Guideline Daily Amount Values
Typical valuesWomenMenChildren (5-10 years)
Calories2,000 kcal2,500 kcal1,800 kcal
Protein45 g55 g24 g
Carbohydrate230 g300g220 g
Sugars90 g120 g85 g
Fat70 g95 g70 g
Saturates20 g30 g20 g
Fibre24 g24 g15 g
Salt6 g6 g4 g

So now that we have have a basic idea of GDA's let us learn how this is implemented when purchasing food. On certain products (not all of them) there would be a GDA label right at the front of the food packet, either on the bottom left, right or centre of the packaging. There would be labelling for five of the nutrients, which would be Energy, Fat, saturates, sugar and salt. Depending on what they are basing this on, the product would provide a figure in grams, and then would give the percentage of this based on the recommended GDA intake for that day. I will explain this better by giving an example. So lets us look at the picture of this rich tea biscuit below; 

The GDA label is based on 1 biscuit, according to the packet so let us keep that in mind. So the first nutrient is energy on the packet, which states that this contains 38 kilocalories, the percentage of the GDA amount is 2% as stated. We do not need to look at the nutritional amounts, we just need to look at the percentage because the GDA labels has made life easier for us, and completely cut off the hard work of us using mathematical calculations. 
Going back to the food packet the percentage GDA for calories is 2%. This means that we still have 98 percent (%) left to reach the ideal target for calories. As this nutrient is based on one biscuit if we have 2 biscuits then the GDA percentage would increase to 4%, meaning we have 96% (percent)  left to reach that daily target. Bear in mind that we still have other meals to consume for the rest of the day, including breakfast and dinner, so the percentages can quickly add up to 100% (percent) by the end of the day. 

I am going to explain this again as I know that this can be confusing. So let us go to the next nutrient on the same food packet, which is Fat. 

So the fat content per biscuit is 1.3 grams, the percentage GDA is 2%. This means that we still have 98% (percent) left to reach the target for Fat content. However this is for biscuits and let us be honest we do not eat just one biscuit do we? So let us assume we have 5 biscuits (sounds about right) let us calculate the GDA percentage. So if one biscuit provides 2% of the GDA, and we have 5, then that means the total GDA we have had is 10% (percent). That means we have 90% left of Fat to consume. And again we have to consider this when we have our breakfast and dinner, so this can quickly add up and increase by the end of the day.  

GDA labels need not to be confusing, and should not be avoided. It is a great way to see exactly how much fat, salt and sugar are in these items. They can be found in a wide variety of items which I have added pictures below.  Further details about GDA labels can be found on this website: GDA Labels