Why Should You Read The Packet’s Label Before You Eat?

by Beenish Zohra

Ingredient lists include vital nutrition information that can help consumers judge the healthfulness of a food.

Say no to junk food for healthy living.

Displaying information about food is mandatory in most countries. This nutritional information on food labels is vital for a consumer to be aware of what is going “in” his body and thereby this information should be utilized correctly.  It is very important to read the label when we are shopping for groceries, especially for people having health issues like diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. Food labelling ensures food safety through storage and cooking instructions. The date markings help to reduce food wastage as well.

One should always look out for calories, serving size, and quantities and/or daily values of various macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are often listed on nutrition labels (e.g., fats, carbohydrate, and calcium), list of ingredients, date of production and expiry. A meal or beverage’s ingredients list can be used to determine if it includes synthetic trans fats, solid fats, added sugars, whole grains, or refined grains.  Ingredient lists include vital nutrition information that can help consumers judge the healthfulness of a food. One should always consume food that fits our body and our mind.

Pay close attention to the following information:

Serving Size: Information on the labels is based on one serving. We should keep in mind that packages often contain more than one serving. For example, if we are eating 1/2 serving, one serving, or more. One serving of noodles is one cup, according to the sample label of the packet of noodles. We would consume two servings if we ate two cups. That is double the number of calories and nutrients stated on the sample label, so we would need to double the nutrient and calorie amounts, as well as the percentage DVs (daily value), to see what we receive in two servings.

Calories: One should probably aim for roughly 2000 per day (General guide for nutrition advice). Calories provide a measure of how much energy we get from a serving of a particular food item. For example, there are 280 calories in one serving of lasagna. What if we ate the entire package? Then, we would consume four servings or 1120 calories.

Saturated fat: Less than 20 grams. What matters most, rather than just striving to keep this number as low as possible, is what we replace it with healthy (unsaturated) fats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Transfat: Aim for 0 grams. The FDA no longer considers trans-fat to be safe. The WHO has also called for the global elimination of trans fats by 2023 (Globally)

Sodium: The WHO recommends that adults consume less than 5 g (just under a teaspoon) of salt per day. For children, the recommendation is even less: 2 g of salt a day. Over 70% of our salt consumption comes from food consumed away from home (processed or prepared meals from the grocery store, or food from restaurants), thus this is one of the most essential items to look for on the Nutrition Facts panel, along with added sugar. This sodium value is not the same as salt. To convert sodium into salt multiply the sodium value by 2.5. For example, 0.5 g sodium x 2.5 gives a salt value of 1.25 g which means quite high.

Added Sugar: 5 to 10 teaspoons of free sugar per day. To reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain and tooth decay, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to below 10 energy percent at all stages of life. One teaspoon of sugar has about 5 grams of carbohydrates and 20 calories. One tablespoon of sugar has about 15 grams of carbohydrates and 60 calories. So, it may be no surprise that sugar and sugar-containing foods still have an impact on our blood sugar and body weight, just like other carbohydrate foods

Low sugar means 5g or less per 100g.
High sugar means: 22.5g or more per 100g

Dietary fibre: Aim for 30 grams of Fibre. Because of the health concerns associated with low intake and the fact that the great majority of Kashmiris do not receive enough. Fibre is necessary for general digestive health, so a lack of it can cause constipation and other bowel problems; it can also make us feel less full, which can contribute to overeating and subsequent weight gain. Products that contain at least 10% of the daily value or 2.5 grams of fibre per serving can claim they are a “good source of fibre”.

Total fat: Despite widespread agreement in the nutrition community that the type of fat is far more important, the Food and Drug Administration continues to include it on the panel. In fact, in 2015, the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended removing the upper limit for total fat, which was important because it had led to widespread substitution with refined carbohydrates and sugars, which had a net negative effect on diet quality. Avoid total fat on the label and instead concentrate on lowering saturated fat (as low as possible) and trans-fat (avoid altogether).

Low fat means: 3g or less per 100g.
High fat means: 17.5g or more per 100g.
Low saturated fat means: 1.5g or less per 100g.
High saturated fat means: 5g or more per 100g.

Beenish Zohra (Dietician)

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are not all the same. We can’t determine how many whole grains are in a product from the Nutrition Facts panel, so we should look for the first ingredient to be a whole grain, such as quinoa, whole-grain oats, brown rice, whole-wheat flour, and so on. The panel’s supplementary carbohydrate-related information is mainly added sugar (target low) and dietary fibre (aim high).

(The author is a professional Dietitian and Clinical Nutritionist, Research Scholar (Dietitics and Nutrition), Certified Diabetes Educator, Bariatric Nutritionist, IBS Dietitian.)

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