So what do all these words on the label mean?

Came across this great article from well known Nutritionist, Catherine Saxelby, and thought I'd copy it into this blog for you. She sends this sort of brilliant information in her regular newsletter, and on her website - Foodwatch.

Foodwatch Dietary Dictionary!

Inulin or insulin – it’s all in that ‘s’

Inulin is a type of carbohydrate that we can’t metabolise. It’s found in chicory root and in lesser amounts in Jerusalem artichokes, artichoke, onion, garlic, rye and banana. It acts as ‘food’ for  the ‘friendly’ bacteria that happily reside in our large intestine and it activates their growth. They love it.  No silly fart jokes please! Hence it’s often added to foods as soluble fibre (think yoghurts, liquid breakfasts etc.,) and is called a prebiotic. See more below.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels. In people with diabetes the body produces little or no insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work as well as it should so they need to be given insulin so their cells can access the glucose in their bloodstream. Early on, insulin was purified crudely from the pancreases of cows and pigs slaughtered for food. Today, insulin is mostly made in a laboratory by growing insulin proteins within E.coli bacteria.

Probiotic or prebiotic – watch that vowel

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that are promoted as the way to digestive health. The two most widely studied and well-documented probiotics are currently Lactobacillus GG (in Vaalia) and Lactobacillus casei Shirota (in Yakult) but there are many more.

The word ‘probiotic’ itself was coined to describe these ‘good bacteria’ and it simply means ‘for life’ or ‘for health’. Probiotics were initially applied to yoghurt bacteria to test if it were possible to modify the ones in our guts and replace harmful ones with helpful ones. While yoghurt cultures make great yoghurt, they are not always the ideal bacteria to treat intestinal disorders and today the term probiotics takes in other fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.

Prebiotics are non-digestible components of food that stimulate the growth of these ‘friendly’ bacteria in the large bowel. The best studied are inulin (fructo-oligo-fructose or FOS) see above. Often added to foods to provide a food source for the probiotic bacteria during storage they are usually listed as ‘fibre’ on the ingredient list. Natural prebiotics are found in almost all high-fibre foods but especially in onions, garlic, legumes, asparagus and whole grains, particularly rye.

Diet, lite, light, low-fat or fat free What a confusing set of terms these are! They’re often used by food companies to lull you into a false sense of security that what you’re buying is better for you than something else. Let’s take a closer look at each in turn.

Diet – is used to mean it has fewer Calories/kilojoules, less fat or less sugar and is used to attract the weight conscious. It can be confusing in products such as Diet Coke and Coke Zero. Both have no Calories so it’s a bit of a marketing ploy to attract males to sugarfree Coke.

Light and lite – these two terms are used interchangeably and are designed to make you think  that you’re making a healthy choice but BEWARE! When light foods first appeared in the 1990s, they were quite simple and had less fat than regular products, but the drop in fat was almost negligible. Today, however, there’s an enormous number of products labelled ‘light' or ‘lite' not just yoghurts and milks - everything from biscuits to beer, ice-cream to coconut milk, potato chips and even olive oil!

Not all these products are genuinely light in the way we’ve come to expect, e.g. there may be less fat but it's been replaced with extra sugar or extra something else or may only be ‘lite’ in flavour e.g. ‘lite olive oil’.

Low-fat - you would think this is an easy to term to evaluate, after all if it’s low in fat, it’s low in fat, so it must be good for you, right? Not so. You need to look at the kind of fat in the food. A food that is higher in fat where the fat is mono-unsaturated like olive oil or avocado may be better for you than one that is slightly lower in fat but where the fat is mainly Palm oil – a saturated fat.

Fat-free - another tricky term! You’ve seen the claim 97% fat-free! Turn it around, it means there is 3% fat and what sort of fat is it – good or bad? It pays to check. Then there is fat-free itself. Only food with less than 0.15 per cent fat can make this claim and it is usually a bit of a con. It's put on foods that never had any fat anyway like confectionery, to draw your attention away from the amount of sugar they contain. Manufacturers are very clever at making a verifiable ‘health claim’ to draw your attention away from the other contents which aren’t so healthy. Read the whole label – sugar, fat, salt etc. then you’ll have a better idea of how healthy a food is.

GI or GL

GI stands for Glycaemic Index  and is a measure of the quality of a carbohydrate – i.e. how much a carbohydrate will affect blood glucose. It ranks foods from 0 to 100 which tells us whether a carbohydrate food will raise blood glucose levels dramatically, moderately or just a little. A low GI food will have a value of 55 or less; a medium GI food of between 56 and 69; with a high GI food being one with a GI of 70 or more.

GL stands for Glycaemic Load and is a term used to describe the overall effect of its GI PLUS its total carbohydrate. After all, if you eat only a tiny amount of a food that has a high GI (say potato), it’s not going to alter your blood glucose by much. A food with a low GL is generally one with less than 10 points; medium - 11-19 points and high - over 20 points.


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