Understanding food labels can help you make healthier diet choices. Below are some tips on reading, understanding, and decoding the mystery of nutrition facts labels.
Ignore the misleading slogans on the packet: 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 original information, manufacturers highlight phrases like “Improves your immunity,” “ low-fat,” or “high in fiber” on the front side.
Beware, these terms are very vague and meaningless at times. For example, when they say ‘low-fat,’ there is a very high chance that added sugars substitute fat content. Now, you do not want to buy this so-called healthy item.
Understand the concept of serving size and the number of servings: The other numbers are meaningless if you do not consider this. Let me explain. Serving size means how much of that particular food you should consume in one go. The nutrient and calorie values listed on the label are for that amount only.
For example, if you eat a bag of chips that says three servings, you are consuming three 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 the cookies are primarily whole wheat? Let’s find out.
The manufacturers always list the ingredients on the label in the order of their quantity. The component present in the maximum amount is always listed first. So if the jar has refined flour as the first ingredient and whole-wheat flour as the second, it is not whole wheat. It just has a little 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 the said food is most likely an excellent option if the list has a set of healthy first three ingredients.
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. It would be best to keep away from these foods.
Know the source of the calories in your food: Take a look at the calorie origin section in the said food. For example, if 120 calories out of the total 220 are from fat, half of the calories you consume are pure fats. I am not saying all fats are unhealthy; I am only trying to explain that you need to consider this and plan your diet accordingly.
Differentiate the bad fats from the good: It is a popular myth that low-fat foods are good for health. Is it true? Not really. Some fats like mono and polyunsaturated fats are considered beneficial for heart health and are of utmost importance for the proper functioning of our body. Saturated fats and trans fats are potentially harmful to your health.
So, next time you go shopping, think beyond ‘ the low-fat foods’ and reach out for foods with healthy fats.
(P.S.- American Heart Association recommends avoiding trans fats altogether)
Beware of the hidden ingredients: Due to increasing awareness among ordinary people, manufacturers have started disguising the unhealthy ingredients.
According to the University of California, the manufacturers use at least 61 different names for sugar. They vary from simple terms like sucrose and honey to confusing ones like agave nectar and evaporated cane juice. Check out the entire list of hidden sugar names here.
Understand the concept of daily percentage values (%DV): This term specifies how much of the total recommended amount* of that ingredient is present in that food.
For example, if a label says 5 %DV for sodium, this particular food has 5 % of the daily allowance of sodium. And you still have approximately 95% of the consumption left for that day.
(*The percentage calculation is based on a 2000-2500 calorie daily diet, so you will have to check with your physician for exceptional cases)
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!