How To Read Food Labels?

March 11, 2022
/
5
Min

Food labels give information about the nutritive values, ingredients, and quality of the product to the consumers. It is one of the most important and direct means of communicating information to the consumer. This information is provided to make healthier choices by the consumers. However, do consumers notice such labels, do they read and understand them, and do they make use of them in their purchasing decisions, or do they actually know how to read them?

According to a survey, 61.8% of consumers indicated that their choice of specific foods is not based on nutrition information. They do not even look at the food label. So, it’s the consumer’s responsibility to make a habit of checking food labels.

In a Food Label, The Important Things That We Need To See Are :

  • The name of the food
  • Nutritional information and serving size
  • List of ingredients
  • Veg/Non-veg
  • Presence of Food Additives
  • Name and Address of Manufacturer
  • Net quantity
  • Date of manufacturing

After this, understanding food labels is very important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy options in packaged foods. This article will help you with understanding the nutrients, ingredient list, percent daily value, serving size, and calories.

Learn to read a nutrition label before you consume any product.

Nutrients

Nutrients are required by our body to grow and function properly. Nutrients impact your health, so it is necessary to eat the right ones. Saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars are nutrients listed on the label that may be associated with adverse health effects like consumption of saturated and trans fat and sodium leads to cardiovascular diseases and hypertension.

Other nutrients listed on the labels like vitamins, calcium, dietary fiber, potassium are good for our health and can be consumed. But remember not to eat these nutrients in excess and to know the nutrient is excess or not percent daily value is given. 

Percent Daily Value (%DV) 

% Daily value is the percentage of the daily value for each nutrient in a serving of the food. The daily value is the reference amount of the nutrient that can be consumed in a day.

As a general guide, 5%DV or less of a nutrient per serving is low and 20%DV or more of a nutrient is high.  So one should choose food that is lower in %DV for trans fats and added sugars.

Nutrients Composition 

Nutrients composition on a label is generally written per 100 g or per serve, for example, if a packet of good day biscuit claims carbohydrate 65g that means 65g carbohydrate is present in 100g biscuit, and not of the total biscuits present in the packet. Similarly, with calories, calories are the amount of energy you get from the food. It is given per 100g or per serve.

Serving Information 

On the food label, the serving size and number of servings in the packet are also present. Serving size tells how much gram 1 serve contains. For eg, it is written serving size: 1 cup. Now if you consume 2 cups that means you ate twice the serving. This will also double the calories, %DV, and composition. The amount of serving, for eg. 4 serves per container, tells about the number of serves per packet.

Nutrient Claims 

A nutrient claim is any claim on a packet that states that it has extra beneficial properties. The most common nutrient claims are low fat, fat-free, low sugar, sugar-free, cholesterol-free, high fiber, low calorie. These nutrition claims should meet the government regulations before appearing on the package. Some also mislead customers by giving any nutrients claims. So if a package claims the following it should meet the given requirements.

Claim Means
Low fat This means the food should have 3g or less fat content per servings
Low calorie This means that the food should contain 25% less calories than the original version of the food.
Fat Free This means that the food should contain no more than 0.5 g of fat per 100g or 100 ml of the food.
High fiber This means that the food should contain 4g of fiber per serving.
Low sugar This means that the food should contain no more than 5g of sugars per 100 g for solids or 2.5 g of sugars per 100 ml for liquids.
Sugar free This means that the food should contain no more than 0.5g of sugar per 100g 100ml of that food.
No added sugar This means that sugar is present but no sugar is added while processing.

Even if the package says low sugar and also its nutrition information meets the requirement, the product contains unknown added sugars whose names customers are unaware of and the customers are misled.

Some names of the added sugars are given below:

Barley malt, molasses, cane juice crystals, lactose, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextran, malt powder, ethyl maltol, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, disaccharides, maltodextrin, and maltose.

Added syrups: Carob syrup, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, malt syrup, maple syrup, oat syrup, rice bran syrup, and rice syrup.

All these added sugars are not good for health. Too much consumption of sugars leads to obesity followed by cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.

Food Additives 

Many packaged foods contain food additives. Food additives are substances added to the food to preserve them or to enhance taste, flavor, and appearance. But these additives are harmful to our health in several ways. 

One such additive is Carrageenan: it is a sea vegetable, high in iodine, sulfur, trace minerals, and vitamins. It is used in improving the texture of the food. In recent research, Carrageenan has been found to be a major cause of diabetes, ulcers, and metabolic syndromes.

Tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ: TBHQ is a common preservative that manufacturers use to prolong their products’ shelf lives. It is present in vegetable oil and animal fat and in processed foods like snack crackers, noodles.

According to the FDA, only 0.02% of TBHQ is allowed in the food. However in research it has been found that there is 5 -10% of TBHQ present in the food products. High consumption of this additive can cause tumour, liver enlargement, neurotoxic effect, convulsions and paralysis.

Sodium benzoate: Sodium benzoate is a preservative often added to carbonated drinks and acidic foods like salad dressings, pickles, fruit juices and condiments. According to the FDA, it has many harmful effects. It causes hyperactivity in a 3 year old child, and shows symptoms of ADHD. sodium benzoate when combined with vitamin c, a harmful product benzene is formed in our body which is associated with cancer development. so , looking at these food additives, it is suggested that too much consumption of these additives is harmful for us. We should always check how much of these are present in a food. More such food additives which are harmful when consumed in large amounts are : MSG, sodium nitrites, sulfites, BPA, potassium bromate.

BOTTOM LINE: there are millions of packaged foods available in the market, we find them reliable and good. But the truth is these are not good for our health, in fact they are the major cause of bad health. Smartness is in avoiding packaged food and cooking homemade food. But still if we use them always check the food label and avoid harmful ingredients. Health is our responsibility, always choose good and fresh food.

References

Riya Sugandhi
Functional nutritionist- R & D division

Riya has a Master's in Nutrition and dietetics with a specialization in Public health nutrition. She believes food is a way to one's heart and with the right nutrition, it is the key to mind. With being a Functional nutritionist she also is working in our R&D team to find, re-work and provide knowledge out to the world. "Unlearn to learn the right nutrition" is an expression she works by.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.