When I started this exercises it was actually to focus on the sodium, because sodium (in the form of salt) has direct correlations with high blood pressure. A massive 42% of our sodium comes from cereals and cereal based products (think breads, pastries, breakfast cereals, biscuits etc). But on the journey I figured hey, if I'm looking at sodium, lets look at other nutrients at the same time!
Now, we've all heard that brekky is an important part of your day. If you're like thousands of Aussies and New Zealanders, you have a couple of whole grain breakfast biscuits as part of your healthy start. There is no denying it's a great way to get fibre, carbohydrates, iron and in some cases protein into you from the get go. But there are so many varieties of breakfast biscuit available, it can get a little confusing as to which one is best for you.
This is where reading the nutrition label becomes very useful. You know, it's the grid on the side or back of the box that tells you important information about what energy (kj), carbohydrates, sugars, fats etc are in the product. It takes time to look at the information and it can be even trickier to compare one box to another. You should take the time! Why I do I think this is important?
If you are looking at your total energy intake to reduce weight, there can be quite a difference in the kilojoules of a standard serve. Or what if you want to reduce your sodium (salt) intake because you are managing high blood pressure? For that matter, studies have shown that increases in potassium in conjunction with lowering sodium may beneficial to blood pressure so that's another nutrient to look at. Whatever your health goals, understanding what your brekky gives you is a great way to kick start your day.
As a little exercise, I decided to do a comparison of five Sanitarium Weet-Bix (TM) varieties. I should mention here I have not been approached by Sanitarium (TM), nor is this intended to be an advertisement for these products. This exercise is purely informational and intended to educate and an example of what information you can gain from reading nutrition labels. This is not all of the Weet-Bix (TM) varieties and of course there are other brands that have their own breakfast biscuits to choose from. Also importantly, the nutrition of your breakfast will be changed by what you have with it, whether you choose whole milk, skim milk, plant based milk, added fruit etc. I haven't listed every nutrient as it would make this post too long. My aim here is to highlight the differences in varieties of a product. The five varieties I compared were
Weet-Bix Cholesterol Lowering
I plotted the information based on the nutrition labels on each of the boxes. Interestingly, while the serving size for each is 2 biscuits, the weight of each varies by a few grams. OK, if you're into pictures, have a look at these pretty graphs, but if you just want to get to what does it mean, skip ahead to my analysis.
So, the first thing I noticed was the difference in energy. It's difficult to do a true comparison gram to gram as each product serve has a slightly difference weight. If you're watching your kilojoules, then Regular, Cholesterol Lowering or Kids are lowest.
Now when comparing total carbohydrates & sugars, the Multi-Grain and Protein Blend have the highest in carbohydrates but also come in first and second place for highest sugars. This is great if you exercise regularly, or have been for your morning run. If you're watching your sugar intake then Regular, Cholesterol Lowering or Kids is best. If you're a gym junkie and looking for extra protein for muscle growth and recovery, then you guessed it, the Protein Blend packs a whopping 10g of protein per serve (the others are 5g or less). Fibre is similar across all of them.
Let's look at sodium since that's where this started! I was surprised to see that the Multi-Grain blend has DOUBLE the sodium of the Regular product (89mg vs 178mg per serve). So if you're worried about high blood pressure then I recommend sourcing your multi-grains from other sources. Better choices here are the Regular or Cholesterol Lowering.
Interestingly, Iron is exactly the same for every variety. A standard 3mg per serve. At least you know where you stand with that nutrient.
Overall I think the BEST choice out of the five, for lowest kilojoules, sugar and sodium is the Kids box, even if you're a grown-up.
Hopefully that has shed some light on why learning to read the nutrition labels is very good skill. Maybe you don't have time to compare every box on the shelf, but awareness is the first step to making better choices.