Helga Bergensteindottir, nutritionist and dietician from the Dubai-based Health Mind and Body Centre has been teaching people how to read food labels for a long time. Along with her exercise classes and tailor-made diets, she always takes her clients on a trip to the supermarket. So I decided to go along with her.
On this trip to Choithram, Safa Park, are Chris Clarke, a foodie who works in the hospitality industry, Stephanie Beazer, a beauty and fashion consultant and salon owner, Helga, and yours truly. I hover around the three as the action begins. Chris manoeuvres his cart to the pre-packaged aisle and a while later Stephanie makes a beeline for the fresh fruit section. Helga accompanies them in turn, telling them all about the labels. She first advises them on the typical pitfalls of choosing packaged food, the rule of thumb to follow and then picks up an item and explains how its nutritional label must be read.
“The most important things to look for while reading labels," she says,"are the serving size and the calorie content. In calorie content, it is important to note the number of calories from carbs, proteins and fats respectively. Serving sizes are usually standardised for similar kinds of food to make it easier to compare the two. So, if you pick up strawberry yoghurt from two different brands, you will know if the same-size servings are equal in their nutritional content.
“What you also need to look for is the number of servings in each package. Nutritional numbers increase in direct relation to the number of servings. For example, if a food item says it has two servings and the carbohydrate content per serving is 20g, you are actually eating 40g of carbs if you decide to eat it all."
Says Clark post-lesson,"I never really knew there was a science to reading food labels until today. Mostly I relied on common sense when shopping for food but I now realise some food I believed was healthy was not even close. Thanks to Helga, I realise I was duped in some cases by claims of ‘low fat' or ‘nutritious'."
Talking of low fat, one of the most common mistakes he always made was to believe the term had any real value by itself. Often the product can be lower in fat content than another version of a similar product, but it doesn't necessarily mean it is healthier.
“Sometimes I buy food like ready-made pasta sauces or soups to use as a base and add in more ingredients but today I have realised some of these products have little ‘good nutritional' value. I will be making more meals from scratch from now on."
He is now also more clued up on portion sizes. Another important lesson Clarke learnt was about bread.
“I often like to eat bread and cheese with my meal but I was surprised to learn a lot of bread was loaded with additives. We had to look hard to find bread that justified the term"healthy." And that loaf cost over Dh20 for a small portion! Some of the cheeses, too, were full of additives and we had to search for a cheese that could be called healthy."
Stephanie, who steers clear of fad diets, experienced a similar learning curve."Over the years, I have put on some weight, and I wanted to find an effective way to lose it and keep it off through good and healthy eating habits." Also, her knowledge of nutrition labels was limited."I did not understand percentages and how they pertained to daily allowances. I think people should know it is not hard to learn how to read nutritional labels. Because at the end of the day, you are what you eat."
Helga provides a list of her staple food:
Breakfast: Fresh vegetable juice.
Snack: Avocado or fresh coconut shake mixed with fresh fruit or non-roasted nuts (no peanuts)/high fibre crackers with almond paste, hummus, salmon or avocado and veggies and basil/bean salad or lentil soup.
Lunch: Veggies with either fish or chicken, wild rice, beans, nuts and seeds
Warm welcome to my health blog! This was introduced with an objective to educate and spread awareness among people, encouraging them to live healthier lives with longevity. Let me emphasize that our contemporary situation in individual’s life are so fast moving that we tend to neglect and spare some moments for our own health.
My inspiration has turned into passion in a health care that turned into a blog. The ample of support and response was tremendously changed into positive results.
I dedicated this blog for all those people who are very conscious for their health and life style. Hope so, I can bring differences for healthy living the fore my viewer comments are always valuable and your continued patronage is important for me. Wish you a happy and healthy life ahead!