Understanding food labels can help you make healthier diet choices. Below are a few tips on reading, understanding and decoding the mystery of nutrition facts labels.
Ignore the misleading front labels: FDA requires all the food products to have a label stating their content, serving size, calorie and nutrient profile. To divert your attention from the labels, manufacturers write phrases like “ “Improves your immunity”, “ low-fat”, or “High in fiber” on the front side itself. Beware, these terms are very vague and meaningless at times. For example, when they say, ‘low-fat’, there is a very high chance that fat content is substituted by added sugars. Now, you do not want to buy this so-called healthy item.
Understand the concept of serving size and the number of servings: Believe me, if you do not take this into consideration, the other numbers are absolutely meaningless. Let me explain. Serving size means, how much of that particular food you should consume in one go; and the nutrient and calorie values listed on the label are for that much amount only. So, if you consume a bag of chips which says 3 servings, you are consuming 3 times the amounts mentioned in the chart. So next time, when you’re buying or eating something, do keep this calculation in mind.
Understand the ingredient list: If your cookie jar says “Made from whole wheat”, what is the possibility that it actually has only whole wheat. Let’s find out. The ingredients on the label are always listed in the order of their quantity. The first ingredient is the one that is used the most. So if the jar has refined flour as the first ingredient and whole-wheat flour as the second, it is not really whole wheat. It just has a little of whole wheat flour along with the refined flour. The best tip here would be to look out for something that says ‘100 percent whole wheat.’ Also, nutritionists widely agree that, if the list has the first 3 ingredients that are healthy, it is most likely a good option to choose.
Beware of that super long list of ingredients: We’ve all seen these products where the ingredient list is never-ending and has all the complex names of chemicals, artificial flavors, preservatives, and whatnot. It has words you can’t even pronounce. Anything with such a complicated nutrition label is something you should keep a safe distance from.
Know the calories in your foods, and their source too: There is a section on the label, which explains the source of calories in that particular food. For example, if a label says that out of 220 calories, 120 of them are from fat, it means that half of the calories that you’re going to consume are pure fats. I am not saying all fats are bad, I am only trying to explain that you need to take this into consideration and plan your diet accordingly.
Differentiate the bad fats from the good: It is a very popular myth that low-fat foods are good for health. Is it true? Not really. Some fats like mono and polyunsaturated fats are considered to be good for heart health and are of utmost importance for the proper functioning of our body. Saturated fats and trans fats have been identified as potentially harmful to your health. So, next time you go shopping, think beyond ‘ the low-fat foods’, and reach out for foods with these healthy fats.
(P.S.- American Heart Association recommends avoiding trans fats completely)
Beware of the hidden ingredients: Due to increasing awareness amongst the common people, manufacturers have started disguising the unhealthy ingredients. According to the University of California, there are at least 61 different names for sugar which are used on food labels. They vary from simple terms like sucrose and honey to very confusing ones like agave nectar and evaporated cane juice. Check out the entire list of hidden sugar names here.
Understand the concept of percentage daily values (%DV): This term specifies how much of the total recommended amount* of that ingredient is present in that specific food. For example, if a label says 5 %DV for sodium, it means that this particular food has 5 % of the daily allowance of sodium. And you still have 95% of your consumption left for the day.
(*The percentage calculation is based on a 2000-2500 calorie daily diet.)
I hope these tips will help you make smarter dietary choices. Have any doubts or questions regarding the nutrition facts label, do let us know in the comment section below. We’re happy to help!