Food Labels: What's in it for you?

Have you ever flipped to the back of a food packet that you picked from a grocery store? Have you paid attention to specific tags like “zero cholesterol” or “no trans fats”? Earlier people never really looked at those food labels on their favorite food. However, with time, more and more people are getting health conscious, and in the process have started reading food labels in order to make wise choices about the food they consume. But reading labels can be tricky. “The nutrition facts label helps you to know whether the front of the label claims really are true or not,” notes dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Julie Stefanski, RDN.

Labeling laws are quite complex thus making it difficult for a layman to understand them. The aim of this article is to help you differentiate between what is actually healthy and which is not.

  • One of the best practices to start with is to completely ignore claims made on the front of the packaging. Front labels tend to attract the consumer to buy products by making false health claims. For example, a pack of breakfast cereal could have claims such as “low fat” or “whole grain”, yet their first listed ingredients could be refined grains and sugar. Adding small amounts of whole grains to the product does not make the product healthy.
  • Study the list of ingredients carefully. If ingredients include refined flour or hydrogenated oils, then it surely is not a healthy option. 

  • Also be aware that there are different terms that could be used for sugar. Watch out for words such as high fructose corn syrup, honey, date sugar, confectioner’s sugar, maltodextrin, galactose, fruit juice concentrate etc. This helps the manufacturer list the healthy ingredients on top with sugar at the bottom of the list and if you do not realise this you may consume high amounts of sugar unintentionally.

  • Be mindful of the serving sizes mentioned on the product. Typically the nutritional value is given for one serving only. But serving sizes mentioned on the pack could be way less than what a person would consume in one sitting. So you might consume more than one serving and the nutritional values would change accordingly.

 

Some tips on reading your product better:

(* * Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for Indians by ICMR is different for men and women based on their age, activity level. The figures indicate the percentage of the daily allowances for micronutrients based on a 2000kcal diet) 

In order to avoid being misled by the labels, avoid processed foods such as canned products, bakery items, processed meat products like sausages, salami, ham, breakfast cereals, ready to eat products etc completely.  Opt for whole foods such as whole grains, cereals, millets, pulses and legumes, nuts and oilseeds, fruits and vegetables as they do not need an ingredients list as compared to processed foods. However, if you decide to buy packaged foods, always opt for higher quality products, avoiding junk food with the tips provided in this article.

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