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Understanding Food Labels: Part 1, Energy

Understanding food labels can at the best of times be confusing, with ambiguous terms and information often baffling the potential consumer. For the next few weeks we are going to cut to the core of food labels and break down some of the terminology commonly used by manufacturers giving you the necessary information to make correct choices for your health in the aisles.

When making comparisons between foods it is usually a good idea to start with the values per 100g or 100ml, this way you can easily compare and contrast the nutritional content of different products.

To start off with we’re going to get to grips with energy. This is one of the key ingredients to a food label and as such should be easily accessible.The figure displayed is the amount of energy in your food, expressed either as calories (kcal) or joules (kJ).  One kJ is equal to 4.18 Kcal. A calorie (kcal) is actually a scientific measurement of heat and is the amount of energy required to heat 1g of water by 1 degree celcius!

Energy is required for all bodily functions and is essential to maintain a healthy body. Consume more than you expend and your body will store excess energy as fat, consume less than you expend and your body will lose weight, either body fat or lean tissue mass (muscle). Beware though as a rapid weight loss (in excess of 2lb / week) may result in a depletion of lean muscle mass and a sparing of fat tissue. A safe and sustainable weight loss is between 1 and 2 lbs per week. When you consider that every pound is a whopping 3500kcal then you will appreciate that even losing 1lb in a week is a great achievement and something you should be proud of!!

So how much energy should you be eating? Well for every gram of carbohydrate and protein you eat you will get 4kcal. As for alcohol it’s a little higher at 7kcal for every gram (or ml), sorry!! And as for fat, well that’s even higher at 9kcal for every gram. As a general rule of thumb men should eat about 2500kcal and women around 2000kcal per day. As you can see a high fat diet will be kcal dense and as such you will be much more susceptible to consume more kcal than you require. Obviously the figures above can vary depending on your daily energy expenditure, so to find out more accurately your energy requirements calculate your BMR here.

Next week we will discuss carbohydrates. In the meantime “Happy shopping”.