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Changing My Attitude to Food Labelling

October 13, 2011

Thank you for your suggestions for good food combinations. I can’t believe I missed so many amazing ones, especially apple and cinnamon – one of my favourites! I also really liked Rose’s suggestion of red wine and cheese, which are made for each other … I want some now!

I also agreed with Jessica that a smoothie without toppings is like Christmas without Santa and I had to do something about it! I made of point of going out and buying muesli yesterday lunchtime so that it could reclaim its place on top of my morning green monster.

My toppings may be unadventurous, but I did branch out with regards to one aspect of my breakfast – I used kale instead of spinach. I love spinach in my smoothies, but I’m concerned about the fact that raw spinach can reduce absorption of iron. I know that kale packs an iron punch so I decided to give it a whirl. I stuck to my favourite pear and ginger combo and added some molasses for more iron and some sweetness.


I didn’t use as much kale as I usually do spinach to ease myself in. My blender struggled a bit with the tougher leaves and the finished product wasn’t as smooth as usual, but I’m going to call it a success! I still love spinach, but I’m going to try to eat it cooked more often – I’m planning a spinach omelette for tonight’s dinner.

I’ve been pondering lately how my attitude to what I choose to eat has changed, with regard to food labelling in particular. When I first lost weight as a teenager I would scrutinise every label for the calorie and fat content. I wouldn’t buy or eat anything that had more that 3g of fat in it, although I wasn’t at all bothered about the sugar, carbohydrate or protein content.

When I was losing weight and counting calories (well, Weight Watchers Points to be accurate) a couple of years ago I had partly realised the value of healthy fats. I still spent ages going around the supermarket looking very carefully at the calorie content, but saturated fat was the focus rather than total fat.

However, I never looked at the ingredients list. I didn’t care very much whether food was packed with sugar, sweeteners or other artificial chemicals. I would go as far as to say that I was addicted to sweeteners – I used to guzzle loads low calorie yoghurts and diet coke, but still wanted more. Over the past year my attitude has changed a lot. I’ve read a lot more about nutrition, first through How Not To Get Fat and I then read Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food. I’ve also been influenced by some of the fantastic blogs that I read.

I now very rarely look at the nutritional content of food when I’m shopping and I mostly cook from scratch. When I do buy more convenience-type food I look at the list of ingredients. If the list is very long with lots of artificial-sounding ingredients I hesitate to buy it. Of course I do eat “junk” sometimes, but I follow these rules for 90% of what I eat.

A related news story caught my eye about a month ago – McDonalds are now displaying the calorie content of their food on their menu in the UK. Other restaurants already do this, including KFC, Pret a Manger and Wetherspoons. I’m torn over whether it’s good idea. When I was calorie counting I found it really useful to know the nutritional value of my meals and I would often research menus online before I went to a restaurant. However, I think perhaps the focus on calories takes away from other important aspects of nutrition. People should be educated about how healthy different ingredients are instead of just choosing the lowest calorie item on the menu which is full of fake stuff and tastes like cardboard.

I think it will help some people to make healthier choices and that’s a good thing, but most people who go to McDonalds aren’t going for the healthy option whatever the menu tells them.

Do you take notice of food labels and what do you look for?

Do you think it’s a good idea for restaurants to publish calorie information on their menus?

And on a lighter note – Do you have any ideas for more adventurous smoothie toppings?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2011 4:12 pm

    I think it is really good to have nutrition info displayed- not just calories but salt, saturated fat etc too, as then at least we can make informed decisions. I loved it in New york as they had a state rule that food for sale needs the calorie info, and although if I really wanted something I would still have it, it does help and also make me think about what I would eat later that day etc. But you are right we must not just focus on calories- meringues are low cal but not nutritious at all- a few brazil nuts would have more calories and more fat but ultimately be more filling and also much more healthful. I am the same as you really- doing WLR meant that I focused on calories before anything else (although it does track fat and carbs and protein too) but now I am trying to be more mindful of getting nutrients from food (and enjoyment too!) 🙂
    I like dessicated coconut on top of a smoothie 🙂

  2. Errign permalink
    October 13, 2011 4:55 pm

    I think that yes, in the US, this is important to have a rough ballpark of what you’re eating out because it’s often disgusting. I do look at labels if I’m buying something packaged (rare occurence) and I usually just look at the macros (total cal, fat, carb, pro) to see if they’ve got an okay ratio and sometimes the sodium too.

  3. October 13, 2011 4:56 pm

    I’m pretty sure the fast food restaurants are now mandated to post their calories, which I think is good since their food is so unhealthy. As for food labels, I don’t read them because I don’t want to get obsessed with the numbers (just something I suspect I’d do). I still get my nutrients because primarily I cook with whole foods.

  4. October 13, 2011 5:55 pm

    I think its generally a good idea, but as you say, nutrition is a whole lot more than just the sum of calories – you could eat a salad for 200 calories or a chocolate bar for the same amount of calories but what your body can do with them is vastly different! Whenever I buy anything in a packet I tend to check the ingredients, not just due to the vegan thing, but mostly to check for refined sugars and artificial ingredients. Since I mostly eat whole foods its not a big problem, but even things like dried fruit and tinned beans – that you would think would be ok, have added oil, preservatives and sugar.

  5. October 13, 2011 8:16 pm

    I used to be the same with food – I lived on artificial sweeteners in the form of Diet Pepsi and Muller Lights. Oh, and Options/Hi-Lites hot chocolate. Monumental amount of crap in them and probably contributed to my poor bone density now! I tend to follow the same approach to reading lables as you do now 🙂

    Toppings…oh, don’t get me started! My problem is that I don’t know when to stop with them….peanut/coconut flour sauce, nuts (cashews and almonds are lovely), dried fruit (raisins, dates…), Bear Granola, Lizi’s Granola, carob flakes…the list never ends!

    I don’t know about the fast food thing…I think it’s a good idea to know, for example if you were stuck in a situation with nothing but McDonalds or whatever to eat and you didn’t want to eat 2000 calories in one meal, but I don’t think their general clientele will be bothered one way or the other. It can’t do any harm, I suppose.


  6. Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance permalink
    October 13, 2011 9:51 pm

    Great point, Sarah. So many people who are trying to lose weight start focusing on the numbers, rather than the actual quality of the food. Total fat is a huge one– if all you do is look at the number, you’ll have no idea whether the fats are healthy ones or not!

  7. October 14, 2011 12:30 am

    I used to do a lot more food label reading, but now I mainly focus on the ingredients list instead of the nutrition label. I try not to buy things with corn syrup, etc. I think calorie posting in restaurants can be helpful sometimes because you might be surprised by how many calories are in certain foods, but I personally tend to ignore that kind of information anyway 🙂

  8. October 14, 2011 4:01 am

    I used to only pay attention to calories- nothing else! I still pay attention to calories on labels, but now I pay attention to the ingredients rather than the nutrition label. If the ingredients are wholesome, the nutrition facts are bound to be good!

  9. October 14, 2011 12:08 pm

    I have monumental arguments with a friend who is doing the Harcombe diet and likes to totally rubbish calorie counting!

    Calorie counting really worked for me but I did it alongside a real effort to ‘spend’ those calories on the best food I could. WLR also tracks your macros and your fruit/veg intake etc so does provide the tools to make better choices but maybe doesn’t promote them as highly as I think it’s all about baby steps.

    I think it’s great to display the info as having said all I just did about spending my cals wisely there is nothing like treating your kids to a happy meal and being able to count the chicken nugget and chips that you stole from them!!!!!!


  10. October 14, 2011 1:26 pm

    Interesting post. I pretty much went from not caring at all what I put into my body, to being very cautious. It’s a lot more work doing the research on ingredients and trying not to eat anything that is processed in any way, but I don’t min the extra work. To me it’s worth it. I also try to limit my refined sugar, and not eat anything white. I think a good goal is to only eat things that will supply your body with some kind of nutrients.

  11. October 14, 2011 1:46 pm

    I think it’s a great idea as there are a lot of people who simply just don’t understand good nutrition. However, I agree that nutrition isn’t just about numbers as some of the foods with higher fat contents are actually very good for us like nuts, avocados etc. I think there is definitely a lack of understanding about diet and nutrition in today’s society that needs sorting out fast.

  12. October 14, 2011 8:42 pm

    I think it is good to have calories labelled just to make people aware but agree that it can become the be-all and end-all; so many newspapers still talk about lower-calorie = healthier which of course isn’t always the case at all…It’s like the whole “carbs are bad” and “fats are bad” thing; there’s just too much misinformation out there. The focus needs to be, like yours, on good, healthy food, balance and lifestyle 🙂

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