10 tips to understand your food labels
Do you think food labels are confusing rather than educating you?
Being healthy begins with smart shopping choices in the grocery store. Starting from the individual ingredients to processed foods, it’s a challenging task while shopping for the needs of the family. Consumers often get confused about the food labels as lots of new products and adverts claim to be healthier in the market.
Are they as healthy as they claim to be?
Whatever may be the reason, many consumers would like to know how to use this information more effectively. The following label-reading skills are intended to make it easier for you to use. The “Nutrition Fact Labels” helps you to make quick, informed food selections for a healthy meal.
Front labels usually lure people into buying products. However, some of these labels are highly misleading. Henceforth, understanding food labels will not be tricky again!
Here are the basics of how to read food labels, consolidated into ten quick-reference tips.
1. What’s in the pack?
Ingredients are listed by quantity — from highest to lowest. If the product constitutes minimum 2-3 wholesome ingredients in the list then you can add to the cart. But if the list expands, then its highly processed food with additional preservatives. Must be precise and easy to understand!
How much it serves?
The serving size reflects the amount obtained after preparation of that particular packed food /beverage. It is not a recommendation of how much you should eat or drink.
It’s important to realize that all the nutrient amounts shown on the label, including the number of calories, refer to the size of the serving. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Total number of persons it serves!
3. What are calories?
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.
To achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, balance the number of calories you eat and drink with the number of calories your body uses. Calorie in = Calorie out!
4. What you get out of it?
- Nutrients that are obtained from the ingredients used in the products – macro (carbs, proteins & fats) and micro nutrients (vitamins & minerals).
- Moderation: Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Added sugars in excess is associated with an increased risk of health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension.
- Highly recommended: Dietary fibre, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and zinc rich foods makes gut friendly, lowers cholesterol and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, anaemia, and hypertension.
- The % Daily Value (%DV) is the percentage for each nutrient in a serving of the food and the reference amounts (expressed in grams, milligrams, or micrograms) of nutrients to consume or not to exceed each day.
- You can use food labels to support your personal dietary needs - this reference in the pack helps you to select the food as per the nutrient requirements. To nourish!
5. What does the colour indicate?
Colour coding in the package indicates whether the product is made from plant or animal source.
- Green: It represents plant-based food product.
- Brown: It indicates that the particular product is added with egg or its substitutes.
- Red: It represents that the product is made up of animal source.
As per the new guideline, FSSAI's mandates the introduction of 'traffic light labelling' for packaged food products in India based on their fat, sugar, and salt content.
Red is for unhealthy products, amber for moderately healthy products and green for healthy products.
Still, you might come across some common food phrases on the packs! How to understand these labelling claims?
Here, you go!
6. All-natural means
It indicates that the food or product doesn’t have any added colours, flavours, preservatives or artificial substances, and it undergoes very minimal processing.
Check the ingredient list of every food you buy to see whether it has added sugar, trans fats, or other ingredients to stay away from added calories.
7. No added sugars indicate
Be cautious with these sugar free adverts, because sugar has other alternates such as honey, molasses, corn syrup, corn sugar, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, and glucose.
However, “no added sugar” foods can include sugar alcohols, like sorbitol and xylitol, to make things taste sweet. These are very low in calories, but they can cause side effects like bloating, acidity, etc.
8. Fat free says
The type of fat in the pack matters, whether its good (PUFA, MUFA, omega-3&6) or bad fats (saturated and trans-fat). Even though, the food contains 0.5g of fat preserving.
Fats are flavour enhancers to food, sometimes food companies add in other ingredients like salt or sugar substitutes to make up for the loss of flavour.
9. Purely Organic denotes
The term “organic” refers to the food that has been grown and processed without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Even processed food labelled “organic” has to be free of artificial preservatives, colours, flavours and its ingredients have to be organic too!
10. Made with whole grains represents
It usually includes grains like wheat, barley, and oats that have 3 main parts - bran, endosperm, and germ. Some of these parts are usually removed during processing.
But grains that retain all are called “whole grain” and they’re better for your heart health and weight reduction.
What’s your challenge when decoding food labels? Do post your queries in the comments and our experts will get in touch with you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Indu Vaishnavi R, Dietician