"Welcome to Nutritionhelp - supporting health for 26 years."
Erica White DipION, FBANT, Nutritionhelp Founder

Shopping – Reading Packaging Labels

Fri 16th Mar, 2018 - 1:01pm by Emma Cockrell

Every now and then I get a concerned email from a client saying,

“How can I avoid all sugar? It is even in wholegrain pasta and brown rice!”

To answer this question we need to understand that there are two main lists on food packaging:

  1. The Ingredients list
  2. The Nutrition or Nutritional Information list

1. The Ingredients List

The ingredients list is the main list that we need to check when we are being careful about what we are eating. This list states exactly what has been put into this product. Ideally we want this list to be as short as possible. Foods which have been processed will often have a long list of ingredients. This might include high levels of salt, and sugar, along with preservatives and flavour enhancers. If you can’t pronounce something on the ingredients list, it is a good idea not to buy it! I will follow up on other ingredients to avoid at a later date, but for now we are just concerned with sugar.

On the anti-Candida diet specifically, and any healthy diet generally, we are looking to avoid any sugars which have been added to the product, and these will be shown in the ingredients list. Unfortunately, sugar is rarely listed simply as ‘sugar’ but may be present under any number of other names.

Names for Sugar

  • Corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar syrup
  • Cane crystals, cane sugar
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Evaporated cane juice

Then there are all the sugar-substitutes. These may generally be a better option for those not on an anti-Candida diet (debatable), but can still feed and encourage intestinal yeast just as well as a spoon of table sugar. For example:

  • Date syrup
  • Honey
  • Agave Syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses

Remember, it is not just those people on an anti-Candida programme who need to avoid sugars. The increase in diabetes, heart problems and obesity means that everyone should be avoiding high sugar foods. Even so-called ‘healthy’ sugars, like honey, will upset blood-sugar balance. Over time, constant impact on blood-sugar can encourage inflammation within the body. Unchecked inflammation can then lay the foundation to any number of health issues.

Where to find the Ingredients List

The Ingredients list is usually on the side or back of the packaging, under the heading ‘Ingredients’. As mentioned previously, we want this list to be as short as possible. This indicates that the packaged food has gone through minimal processing, since the more processed the food, the more preservatives, sugars, flavourings are needed to maintain shelf life, colour and flavour.

Here is the ingredients list for gluten-free oats

The ingredients list just one item, but this gives someone on the anti-Candida diet all the information they need:

  • The pack contains 100% oats, telling us that no other ingredients (such as sweeteners, salt or flavourings have been added.
  • The oats are wholegrain – therefore unrefined
  • The oats are gluten-free, which may be more important for some than others.

This information is sufficient to let us know that this is a natural whole food, with no added ingredients and therefore acceptable to use.

2. Nutritional Information List

The Nutritional Information list helps us to understand what nutrients that food is providing. It will list:

  • Energy provided by the food – as both KJ (Kilojoules) and Kcal (Kilocalorie). Kilocalories are generally used to measure food for weight-loss purposes in this country. I will discuss the benefit – or not – of measuring kilocalories at another time!
  • Fat
    • Of which saturates
  • Carbohydrate
    • Of which sugars
  • Fibre
  • Protein
  • Salt

Carbohydrates – of which sugars

It is the carbohydrate content which can cause so much confusion, because it includes the naturally occurring sugars.

All carbohydrate foods will contain some ‘sugars’, and this is why we need to make informed choices on which carbohydrate foods go into our shopping trolley.

If we are choosing whole grain, unrefined carbohydrate foods, such as quinoa, rice, buckwheat, oats, then the whole grain will also provide fibre and vitamins and minerals. The fibre helps slow digestion of the grain, preventing an upset to blood sugar, and an over-encouraging of intestinal yeast. The vitamins and minerals within the grains support blood sugar (e.g. chromium and magnesium) and immune health (e.g. zinc, vitamin E).

Here is the Nutritional Information List for Gluten-Free Oats

Half way down you can see the carbohydrate content and then ‘of which sugars’, which is 0.4g per 40g serving.

A carton of organic Chickpeas below show the ‘Ingredients’ at the top of the package. It lists two ingredients – organic chickpeas and water.

Beneath this is the ‘Nutrition’ list, where we see a breakdown of the nutritional value of the food.  We can see that 100g of the chickpeas provides 0.4g of naturally occurring sugars, or 0.5g in a half pack serving.

For most clients, if you are choosing whole grain products, with no other added ingredients, (e.g. whole grain pasta) you don’t need to worry about the sugars that are naturally occurring in the food. The usual approach of Nutritionhelp is to avoid the sugars that naturally occur in fruit, as this can be very sweet, and to just stick with the carbohydrate in whole grains and starchy vegetables. This is an area of much discussion in the Nutrition World, but in our experience it remains a helpful starting place for an anti-Candida protocol.

Carbohydrates in a Healthy Eating Programme

These carbohydrate foods obviously need to provide just one part of the diet. Each meal should also contain plenty of vegetables – particularly low carbohydrate veg; a serving of protein; and some beneficial fats, such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil as a dressing or a sprinkling of seeds.

Those who need to lose weight may benefit from keeping carbohydrate-rich foods fairly low in the diet. For example, perhaps limiting ‘carb’ foods to just oats at breakfast, and using lower-carbohydrate vegetables at other meals. However, unless you are very active, most people should be limiting grains and starchy veg to no more than a quarter of your plate at lunch and dinner. Rather than base a meal around a pile of wholegrain pasta or rice, a meal should be based around the vegetable content. Choose a variety of vegetables such as leafy greens, courgettes, red peppers, red cabbage, butternut squash etc, to provide a mix of colours and nutrients. To this add some protein, such as fish, eggs, poultry, legumes and seeds. Finally add some carbohydrate, the portion size depending on metabolism and energy requirements, but most of us can eat substantially less carbohydrate (wholegrain and skin-on potatoes included!) than we have become used to.