If you care about what you eat, then don't worry too much about reading food labels - they're not as helpful as you may think.
Government legislation requires food manufacturers share their secret ingredients, a request consumers battled for years to achieve. But our obsession to know what's in the food we eat has turned into a playground for the industry. They have had some fun deceiving the novice shopper by tampering with the claims, names and numbers on the label and nutrition information panel - or NIP to us nutrition nerds.
I hear it all the time - "the labels are too small to read," "they're confusing" - and this is no accident. Food manufacturers don't want you questioning what's in their products.
We have been outsmarted by an industry that values business over health. The noble NIP is no longer a sanctuary for simple and clear information. It now takes time to decode, which is why a simpler method of identifying healthy foods is needed - and long overdue.
But for the educated label reader, comparing foods based on their nutritional value can be as natural as tying a pair of shoelaces. It's also an essential skill if you have an intolerance or allergy to a food.
Food Labels 101:
No label = the best
Wholefoods are key to a healthy diet and they aren't slapped with any nutrition info. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds are undeniably the best foods for you. Don't be afraid of these guys.
Be cautious of claims
Tread carefully when considering any product that reckons it's better than the one on the shelf next to it. Marketing prey on consumer demand for healthier alternatives. Be aware of those screaming 'less fat' 'no added sugar' 'fat free'.
Don't go near long ingredients lists
The less ingredients listed, the healthier it tends to be. Additives, preservatives, thickners and fillers aren't required for good health - so there's no need to get them in your belly. This rule does not apply if you're using wholefoods to cook up a storm - go crazy in the kitchen.
Check: per serve or per 100g?
If you do compare products, always look at the per 100g column on the NIP and not per serve. Manufacturers manipulate the serving size to appear healthy. Breakfast cereals are notorious for this. Better to choose wholesome oats or throw out your cereal and replace it with fruit and yoghurt.
Don't let cartoons lure you in
If a product needs pictures to grab your attention - or more often, your child's - then it's not worth buying. The same can be said about cute television commercials selling you food - about 95 per cent of these promote processed junk.
If you can cook it in seconds it's probably bad
Zapping a pizza or pie in the microwave is a sign you shouldn't be eating it. Try making your own version of the meal in a minute - from pasta sauce to coleslaw, there are plenty of healthy recipes floating around.
Keep food close
Food looses its nutritional value and quality when traveling long distances. Eating local and seasonal is best. It's also cheaper and supports your local community. If you buy from farmers' markets, you'll also get to see the face behind the food you eat which is a pretty nice feeling.
Get out of the supermarket
Supermarkets are tricky environments for those wanting to eat well. They're packed with temptations and traps that will distract you from your shopping list. If you need to venture in, stick to the outer isles where all of the good stuff is. Ideally, get most of your tucker from as close to the source as you can - markets, butchers and grow your own.