The quest for low-fat, unsweetened food at the supermarket

As mentioned in the post on home-made Tico food, one of the downsides of strictly following the Tico recipes is that the traditional recipes have an enormous amount of fat in the form of sugar, butter, cheese or milk. Of course, cooking at home has the advantage that one can (1) substitute the original ingredients for low-fat alternatives such as sweetener or skimmed milk, (2) put lower amounts or (3) take them out altogether.

The challenge remains with the prepared food. Both the one that is prepared in restaurants and the one acquired in supermarkets. Regarding the latter, the hardest part is understanding the sugar content of the packaged food. What? you are probably thinking. It is not that difficult, one just looks at the product label. Simple right? Well, let me illustrate the challenge with some pics of products from our kitchen:

Look closer in the peanut butter.

Challenge 1: Find the right information. The labels show both grams and percentages. But pay attention. The grams are per portion but the percentages are in relation to how a portion of the product contributes to the recommended dietary intake based on a 2000 calorie diet. (I am not discussing here how I would become the female version of Pavarotti if I eat 2000 calories on a daily basis). So, the 8 grams of total sugar contributes to 14% of the recommended intake of sugar per day following the mentioned 2000 calorie diet. It does not mean that the peanut butter has 14% of sugar!

Challenge 2: Make the calculations. The 8 grams of sugar indicated in the label are per 34 grams of a suggested portion. The aforementioned means that the “added sugar” content of this peanut butter is 23,6 % and not the 14% that we would initially have thought by mistakenly looking at the percentages, particularly if we come from Europe. In Europe, we are used to finding the information on the calories, fat and sugar content of the product per 100 grams, which allows for easy comparison. But here, the information provided is per portion (SIGH!), following the North American style. And that makes things complicated. Not only each product has a different serving portion but each brand has a different recommended portion. So, deciding which product has a lower sugar content becomes a mathematical challenge.

Challenge 3. Bring the augmenting glass to the supermarket: Add to that that the labels usually are written in nano-millimeters, and then you have not only a mathematical challenge but a mathematical challenge for eagle-eyed only.

Learning from mistakes

Of course, we were not aware of this when we did our first shopping and we noticed only later on that some of the products that we had bought had as much as 25% sugar! Beginners mistake. Now, we go to the supermarket almost like Sherlock Holmes, equipped with an augmenting glass (or the equivalent progressive glasses) and a calculator.

To the foreign eye, we might pass for food inspectors.

The drawback is that something as simple as choosing peanut butter or muesli becomes a 1-hour affair…But we hope it will get better over time once that we have found the winners. Either that, or we bring the tent to the supermarket next time.

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