How to read food labels?

As the world is now moving towards healthy living and eating, it’s crucial that we know what we are consuming. With the rise of fitness bloggers and ‘healthy’ packaged food, the options are plenty, but so are the risks. 

Food labelling is one of the most important population-based approaches that can help consumers make informed and healthy food decisions. As a brand one must provide all the necessary information about the food on the package itself. But as a layman and as a parent who is constantly on the lookout for something healthy for their child and family, it’s important we know how to read and understand food labels correctly.

Here’s your guide on how to read and interpret food labels:
Serving and calories:

Serving size denotes the quantity of one portion that a person should eat at a time. If the total weight of a packet of crackers is 75 gm and the serving size is 15 gm, then it means you should consume only a handful of crackers and not the entire pack. So the serving size helps you understand how much calories you will be consuming. 
Calories per serving indicates the amount of calories you will be gaining through one serving. For instance 100 calories from one serving of 100 gm, then 200 calories from the entire pack of 200 gm. 

List of nutrients:

Understanding nutrients is very important, as this is what is needed by our body to function and maintain good health. On the food label, the first set of nutrients are the ones that we should try to avoid, such as fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and excessive sodium. The next set of nutrients mentioned are the ones we should try to consume more like vitamins, dietary fibre, calcium, vitamins and iron.

Total Fats: 

This figure shows the total amount of fats present in the product. But it’s important we understand the different types of fats and how it affects our body, because as we already know not all fats are bad. 

Saturated fats: 

This is the type of fat that is often found in dairy products like milk and butter, and meat. This is what gives rise to cholesterol in our body. Products containing palm oil, coconut oil also contain high amounts of saturated fats.

Trans fats:

This kind of fat is generally added to increase the shelf life of a packaged food product. They are a processed form of fat, and go through a process of hydrogenation. Also known as a cheap alternative to butter and even more unhealthy than saturated fats since it decreases the amount of good cholesterol (HDL: High density Lipoprotein) and increases bad cholesterol (LDL: Low density lipoprotein). 

Unsaturated fats:

This is the best kind of fats as it is healthy and helps you lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart diseases.

  • Monosaturated: 

Usually found in foods like avocado, nuts, olive and peanut, these are good for reducing your bad cholesterol levels.

  • Polysaturated: 

This kind is usually found in vegetable, sesame and sunflower oils and in seafood. They are essential for the body and its functions such as tissue building, blood clotting and combating inflammation. If you see Omega-3 and Omega-6 mentioned in the label, this indicates polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Another very important component that you need to check in these food labels is sugar. Many brands hide the real quantity of sugar behind fancy alternative names and sweeteners. Some of the names that you will often find are – agave nectar, honey, corn syrup, cane juice, fruit juice, malt syrup, brown sugar, etc. According to the American Heart Association, one should limit the intake of sugar to not more than 6 teaspoons, i.e. approximately 100 calories.

The preceding set of ingredients is generally the amount of proteins, vitamins, minerals  such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc etc. We should always strive to attain the RDA (Recommended Dietary allowance) of each of the listed nutrients to maintain a healthy body.

So the next time you are buying a packaged food product, make sure you read the label carefully. We believe with this article you will now be able to understand food labels better and lead smarter and healthier lives. 

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