Food for thought: how reading labels on food can help you lose weight

Studies have shown that people who do read food labels are on average 3.6 kilos lighter than those who don't.

Labels are a guide to gauging how healthy a food product is. Daniel Acker/ Bloomberg
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Food labels can be a minefield to decipher – and increasing amounts of information and clever marketing claims can make it hard to work out if something is healthy and can turn shopping trips into epics.

However, new research published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics certainly gives us good reason to pay attention, suggesting that people who do read food labels are on average 3.6 kilos lighter than those who don’t. The effect was found to be especially pronounced among women.

This may seem logical: the more health-conscious tend to read food labels. However, although a third of people claim they look at calorie content, a study published by the American Dietetic Association showed the number is actually closer to nine per cent. Keeping track of such information and aggregating it every day is unrealistic and takes the pleasure out of eating – no wonder so many of us give that up!

There is information on the label that doesn’t require a table of calculations to ascertain its value. It’s often completely ignored but it fundamentally is the only thing you need to concern yourself with when deciding whether to eat something or not: the list of ingredients. It is your key to really understanding how healthy the food is. Knowing what is in your food and making a decision based upon this is not only the most common-sense approach, it’s also the only thing that truly counts

It will tell you whether salt, sugar, artificial chemicals, preservatives and fat have been added so you can very quickly decide if you are eating “real” food or a man-made, artificially sweetened “fake” food that’s less nourishing and harder to digest – and this is what really makes the difference to our health and certainly our waist line.

Laura Holland is a well-being consultant and nutritional therapist. For more information, go to