Written by Pradeep
With the rising trend of health consciousness, “low carb” diet and fat free food, where do you locate yourself? Do you buy stuff from supermarket as you wish or are swayed by ads?, “Biscuit ke naam pe… kya kha rahe ho..? Sirf maida kha rahe ho.!” Does your mind silently play this song when you face the dilemma of choosing between Bourbon and Marie biscuits and finally pick up the pricey digestive biscuits? Truth is, the so hyped digestive biscuit can also contain Maida (white flour) with wheat flour.
For yourself, for your family, you always want to pick up the best. When your child insists on having a particular snack, you want to ensure that it is healthy for him. While all major food ads will have children featuring in them, the idea is not that they are healthy for the kids, but the idea is that ad-makers know how to push the product from the TV screen to your kitchen shelf. So how not to be fooled by ads and make wise healthy choices? You simply need to pick the product, turn it around and read the food label. Food labels are usually ignored, but then Food Safety and Standards Authority of India put that up mandatory for a reason isn’t it?
Effective parenting begins with you, and when your kids will see their parents reading the labels, there are very good chances that you will be raising health conscious, more responsible children.
A research published in the British Food Journal on use of food labels by Indian consumers concluded that, “difficult terminology, small font size and inability to understand nutritional labels are the major problems encountered by the consumers”
Read below to know how to read the labels effectively and understand jargons:
The food label begins with the mention of serving size. Serving size denotes the quantity of one normal portion consumed by a person. The total weight of the pack should not be considered as the normal serving size.
For instance, the total weight of a chips packet is 75 gm and the serving size is 15 gm, then it denotes only a handful of chips as one serving. If you consume more than this, then you are eating more calories. Probably double the calories specified for one serving, if you finish half the pack then five times more with the entire pack
This figure indicates how many servings the entire pack can cater to. For instance, if the serving size of a cereal pack is 150 gm, then a 300 gm pack can serve two servings
The nutrients are mostly specified on the ideal adult intake of calories, i.e. approx. 2000 calories. Calories per serving indicate the amount of calories you will obtain from one serving. For instance 100 calories from one serving of 150 gm, then 200 calories from the entire pack of 300 gm
This specifies how many calories from the product intake come from the fat. For instance, Calories from fat (one serving of 150 gm) = 20, then consuming the entire pack (300 gm) will denote intake of 40 calories from fat.
Coming to the fats, these come in various forms and names:
This figure denotes the total amount of fats present in the product. It may be specified for the total net weight of the pack or per serving
They increase the level of cholesterol in blood. Products containing palm oil, coconut oil contain high amounts of saturated fats. Various dairy products, butter, cheese, meat, chicken etc. are sources of saturated fats
Also known as partially hydrogenated oil or hydrogenated oil. In plain words, this functions as a cheap alternative to butter. A very common form of fat that increases bad cholesterol. These are mostly added to increase the durability of the product.
Often found in breads, snacks such as chips and biscuits, even in baked food and dairy products. Note: Trans fat is 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)
These fats are good for the body as they lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of developing coronary heart diseases. Look for products which are low in saturated fats and trans fat
They are required for the body for proper functioning such as tissue building, blood clotting and fighting inflammation. If you spot Omega-3 and Omega-6, this indicates polyunsaturated fatty acids. Other sources include un-hydrogenated soybean oil, canola oil, flax seeds and walnuts
Another type of fat which is good for the body, but only in the sense that these should be preferred over saturated fats and trans fat. Most nuts contain these. You may want to consider products made in olive oil or groundnut oil as a source of monounsaturated fats
7. Reading Food Labels: Nutrition Facts Explained
So you are happy as a punch when you read a label that says ‘all natural’ or ‘whole grains’ or low fat. Do you think it is what it says. The answer is in the below lines:
This next slot describes the amount of proteins, vitamins, minerals (sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc etc) along with other nutrients such as folate etc. You should strive to attain the RDA of each of these to maintain a healthy body.
% Daily Value or RDA (Recommended Dietary allowance): It specifies how much of the daily recommended percentage of each nutrient is present in one serving of the product. Mostly one column indicates recommended DV and other the amount present in the product. However, you need to check the DV of other nutrients as well.
For instance, if one cereal serving provides 20% RDA of iron and 60% of sugar, then you need to consider whether you want to obtain your maximum daily value of sugar from cereal or do you love to take sweets after meals?
Hopefully now you understand what the figures on food label mean and will not shy away from reading the nutrition facts. It will take less than a minute to glance through the black and white box with figures at the back of the product, so do read it!
So be a smart consumer and live a healthy life!
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