[Article updated on 19/09/2023]
To understand what is noted on the labels of the products we consume, we need to know the roles of the different nutrients:
Before reading on
I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.
The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.
There are 3 main types of nutrients to make our body function: proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. Within these 3 groups we can find 2 subgroups:
- Proteins: of animal origin / of plant origin
- Lipids: of animal origin / of plant origin
- Carbohydrates: complex (formerly called “slow”) / simple (formerly called “fast”).
The proteins are made up of amino acids: certain amino acids are more present in the animal kingdom and others in the plant kingdom. Some amino acids are even difficult to find in the plant kingdom: this is the difficulty of diets vegetarians/links. It is important to vary the sources of proteins to provide the body with all the amino acids which are necessary for him.
Lipids are made up of more or less saturated fatty acids, that is to say more or less hydrogenated. The more hydrogenated (saturated) a fatty acid is, the less good it will be for health. Furthermore, unsaturated fatty acids are protective against certain diseases (cardiovascular, vision disorders, etc.). However, unsaturated fatty acids are sensitive to cooking: to preserve their nutritional virtues, you must take care to consume them raw (e.g. olive and rapeseed oils for seasoning, nuts, almonds for pecking, etc.). There are also other types of lipids: cholesterol is the best known. Cholesterol is a lipid essential for the proper functioning of the body (brain, hormones, etc.). It is found in products of animal origin.
Carbohydrates are made up of molecules called “oses” (e.g. glucose, fructose).
Simple carbohydrates, formerly called “fast carbohydrates”, are made up of an assembly of a few units of sugar (e.g. sucrose, which is table sugar, is an assembly of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose). Their digestion is therefore easy and rapid. As a result, they are not very filling.
Complex carbohydrates, formerly called “slow carbohydrates”, are made up of an assembly of numerous branched bones to form long chains (e.g. starch is an assembly of numerous glucose molecules). They take a long time to digest and are much more filling.
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)are numerous and essential in the biochemical reactions of the body: they are the keys to starting these biochemical reactions of the body. Without micronutrients, all other nutrients are completely useless to us because the body is unable to transform them or use them.
Fibers are represented by 2 groups: soluble fibers which swell on contact with water, slow down transit and prevent diarrhea, and insoluble fibers which do not swell on contact with water, accelerate intestinal transit and prevent diarrhea. constipation. A so-called “normal” transit is largely the result of the balance between the 2 groups of fibers consumed.
Foods providing soluble fiber: vegetables, fruits and rice. Foods providing insoluble fiber include cereals, pulses, bread, prunes, figs, apples and leeks.
A balanced diet is based on regular consumption of all these categories of nutrients in sufficient quantities: neither too much nor too little.
Read a label: How to do it ?
1) Find the name of the product
Generally indicated in small letters on the back of the product, it will tell you whether it is a natural food or an industrial preparation. The name of the product is different from the trade name, the latter being generally marked in large letters on the packaging. Ex: let’s take a standard brand white cheese. Its commercial name is “Douceur Satinée – nature”, its name is “Natural fermented milk specialty”.
2) Decipher the list of ingredients
Ingredients are classified according to their proportion, from the ingredient present in the greatest quantity to the one present in the smallest quantity. I advise you to avoid foods with a long and complicated list of ingredients to understand, this is a sign that it is an ultra-processed product. The simplest foods with the fewest additives will be better for your health. The order of ingredients helps verify that product marketing is not misleading about the content of the product. Ex: for a product called “wheat and lentil mix”, the first ingredients that must appear are “wheat” and “lentils”. If this is not the case, or if you see “wheat, lentil flour…”, it is a product that is much less nutritionally interesting and more processed…
3) Decipher the nutritional value table
- Nutritional values can be given for “one serving” or per 100 g. Compare products based on identical weight (100 g is the simplest because it is present on each product).
- Energy : little importance in reality, they are the most important nutrients.
- Fats : represent all the fats present in the food. The “of which saturated fatty acids” (or “of which SFA”) represents the quantity of hydrogenated fatty acids. Check that the proportion of SFA is not too high in relation to the total amount of fat, especially when the amount of fat in the product is high.
- Carbohydrates: represent all the carbohydrates present in the food (complex and simple). The “including sugars” represents the amount of simple carbohydrates. Check that the proportion of simple carbohydrates is not too high in relation to the total amount of carbohydrates if you are looking for a satiating food.
- Proteins: The more protein a food contains, the more filling it will be. Be careful, however, not to consume too much protein to avoid tiring the kidneys early. To know and as a reference: in a portion of meat, fish, eggs… we find the equivalent of 15 to 20 g of protein (per 100 g).
- Sodium and/or salt: salt is a combination of sodium and chlorine (NaCl). Sodium is a nutrient whose intake must be controlled because it has a real impact on the functioning of the body (blood pressure, water flow, etc.). It is recommended not to exceed 8 g of salt per day (salt present in food, table salt, cooking salt, etc.)
- Fibers: The more fiber a food contains, the more filling it will be. Consider bringing soluble fiber (fruits and vegetables) and insoluble fiber (rice, pasta, quinoa, dried vegetables, etc.) every day to maintain a pleasant transit.
Note : dried products (dried vegetables, cereals, freeze-dried soy proteins, etc.) double or even triple in volume and weight once rehydrated (100g raw becomes 200-300g cooked). Remember to convert the values in the nutritional value table by 2 or 3 since they are generally indicated per 100 g of dry food.
Attention ! THE industrial players play on product marketing: rely on nutritional composition tables of products and not in claims such as “rich in protein”, “granola dietetic”, “low in sugar” for example!