If you buy any packaged goods at the supermarket, read this.
Many of the packaged and pre-packaged food products we buy there make a variety of tall claims.
Some advertise their product to be healthy, while others go for highlighting how the item is low-fat or has natural sugars.
In this age of crafty marketing, consumers easily fall for the claims made on the front or back of the food box.
However, it is important to read food labels thoroughly and make the choices depending on our bodies and according to our health needs.
But first, what is a food label?
- When looking at the Nutrition Facts label, first take a look at the number of servings in the package (servings per container) and the serving size. Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. It is not a recommendation of how much you should eat or drink.
- Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. The number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat. Eating too many calories per day is linked to overweight and obesity.
- Look for foods that contain more of the nutrients you want to get more of and less of the nutrients you may want to limit. Nutrients to get more of: Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. Nutrients to eat less: Added sugar, saturated fat, sodium
- The % Daily Value (%DV) is the percentage of the Daily Value for each nutrient in a serving of the food. A General Guide to %DV
- 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low
- 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high
Here are some handy tips that will help you read food labels better.
- Learn to read the ingredients list properly
This might sound basic, but it is perhaps the most vital step. In a food label, the items are listed in weight order from the biggest to the smallest. Ingredients that are listed at the bottom are generally added in small quantities. For instance, if the food packet you have picked up contains saturated fat like cream, butter, fatty meat, or cheese along with sugars and concentrated fruit juice, you should know that these take up the major proportion of the food.
- Always check the nutrition information
The nutrition information on the food label can really help you identify how healthy a food is. For instance, a box of crackers may be advertised as being “Trans Fat-Free” on the front. However, after checking the ingredient list at the back, you may find it contains ingredients like fats, palm oil, and coconut oil. All of these may end up clogging your arteries.
- Don’t forget the calorie count
We often assume that if a product has “200 calories” posted on its label, that means we would be taking 200 calories if we consume it. That’s incorrect. The simple way to understand the calorie count on a packaged food item is to multiply the 200 calories by the total number of servings – say, for instance, 5. This would mean that you are effectively taking in 1000 calories instead of 200.
Don’t get too happy if a product has “0 calories” mentioned on the back either. Since a lot of manufacturers use absurdly small serving sizes on the food box and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has mentioned that manufacturers can “round down” to zero, many of the items that are promoted as calorie-free or fat-free are actually not.
- Types of fat
Fat, of course, has a lot of calories. It is important to check, though, whether the fat is saturated or unsaturated. Foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish and vegetable oils contain unsaturated fat which is actually good for your health. Meanwhile, saturated fats, which are usually found in butter, fatty meats, pastry, biscuits, and cakes, can be harmful if consumed too often. Excessive saturated fat intake increases our bad cholesterol levels and thus increases the risk of heart disease. On the nutrition label, both total fat and saturated fat must be mentioned. Keep the following points in mind:
- Low fat: 3g or less per 100g
- High fat: 17.5g or more per 100g
- Low saturated fat: 1.5g or less per 100g
- High saturated fat: 5g or more per 100g
- Be suspicious of reduced-fat claims
Low-fat versions of foods are well-advertised and instantly catch our fancy. To get a proper idea, read the nutrition information to compare sugar and fat content on the original product and the low-fat one.
Another point worth remembering is that “low-fat” or “low-sugar” items can often be higher in salt. If you find that the “lower fat” version of the food item is not much lower in energy (kcal), then opting for the original product in smaller amounts would be better.
- Look for added sugar on food labels
Products like honey, malted barley, syrup, nectar, molasses and fruit juice concentrate are often sold as “natural sugar” substitutes. However natural it may sound, if the ingredient label of any food product mentions sugar in any form, then it contains sugar.
- Low sugar: 5g or less per 100g
- High sugar: 22.5g or more per 100g
If you must take these added, refined, or concentrated sugars, then make sure that it is no more than 2 tablespoons daily to be safe.
- Check the sodium content
Salt labeling is mandatory in the majority of countries. For salt labeling on food packets, here are some points to consider.
- High level: more than 1.5g salt per 100g (color-coded red)
- Moderate level: 0.3g-1.5g per 100g (color-coded amber)
- Low level: 0.3g salt or less per 100g (color-coded green)
So choose your food items only after you have checked their salt and sodium content
Source: Internet and other
The views expressed in this article should not be considered as a substitute for a physician’s advice. Always make sure to seek a doctor or a professional’s advice before proceeding with the home treatment plan.