Nutrition Label- What To Look For And What To Avoid
From a small bag of crisps to a giant frozen pizza every single food item available anywhere in the world has a nutrition label. How many calories the food has, what ingredient it has, the temperature at which you should be storing the item, expiration date all are very useful information that we should be knowing before buying any food item.
It is compulsory by the law to mention this information on every food item. Thus, it is a very important part of food packaging but it is oftentimes ignored. Sometimes, either a friend recommended an item that tastes delish and is super healthy or you saw an advert claiming the drink will give you all the energy you need in an instant, we just go straight to the supermarket and pick up the item and keep it in the cart. This habit of blind shopping is a very bad habit because we should be knowing what we are eating because what works for one does not necessarily work for you too.
Adverts are made to encourage you to buy a product. The front label of food items is the most misleading. It is designed in a way that the consumer gets attracted to the item instantly. The claims made on the front label should always be double-checked before buying.
Reading labels can be tricky and a cumbersome job. But we can’t emphasise enough how important it is to read the nutritional label behind the food items.
FRONT LABEL OF NUTRITION LABEL
One of the best tips may be to completely ignore claims on the front of the packaging. The colourful quirky looking front labels try to lure you into purchasing products by making several health claims. In fact, research shows that adding health claims to front nutrition labels makes people believe a product is healthier than the same product that doesn’t list health claims — thus affecting consumer choices.
Manufacturers are often dishonest and make false or twisted claims which are hard to understand sometimes and for this, they use these labels. They tend to use health claims that are misleading and in some cases downright false. An example may include many high-sugar breakfast bowls of cereal like whole-grain puffs. Despite what the label may imply, these products are not healthy. This makes it hard for consumers to choose healthy options without a thorough inspection of the ingredients list.
BACK LABEL OF THE NUTRITION LABEL
1. Vegetarian, Vegan and Non-Vegetarian
The first and foremost thing to check is whether the food item is vegetarian, non-vegetarian or vegan. It is easy to differentiate between non-vegetarian and vegetarian because they use the colours red and green respectively but in the case of vegans, it gets a little confusing.
Vegan is often time confused with vegetarian which is not the same. Vegan is most of the time represented by a small plant-like structure to hint the item is plant-based.
The next thing to check is the servings the item offers on the nutrition label. Servings are often misleading. The manufacturers try to deceive the consumer with servings quite often.
Nutrition labels state the number of calories and nutrients are present in the standard amount of product which is often suggested single serving. However, these could be a smaller portion than our regular portion of the meal. This way, a manufacturer tries to create an impression in the mind of a consumer that the food has lower calories and sugars. This seems to be a lucrative option and we tend to buy that item.
Compare the portion you actually eat to the serving size listed on the label.
3. Now, Calculate the Total Calories
Always check the calories mentioned. The Nutrition Facts most of the time apply to the serving size, so if the serving size is one bowl and you eat two or three bowls, you are getting twice or thrice the calories, fat and other nutrients than what is listed on the label
4. Study The Ingredients List
The ingredient list should be read very carefully. The products ingredients are listed by quantity. It goes from the highest to the lowest. So if an ingredient is mentioned first, it means it constitutes the highest amount. Use a good rule of thumb and check the first three ingredients and this is what your meal is mostly composed of. If the first ingredients include refined grains, a type of sugar, or hydrogenated oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy. If you see the ingredients list that is longer than two to three lines, we suggest to knot chose that product because it is highly processed.
5. Consider the Additional Nutrients
Not just the main ingredient, you also need to know about the additional nutrients and minerals present in your meal. Find out the percentage of protein, carbohydrate and sugar your meals consists of.
6. An Alternate Name For Sugars
You may find sugars in lots of different names present on the label, some we might not be aware of. Food manufacturers use this to their advantage by purposely adding different types of sugar to their products to hide the actual amount. To check the right amount of sugar, you first need to recognise it. It could also be in the form of syrup, crystal or sweetener. Here are some names you may find sugar in.
- Types of sugar: brown sugar, cane sugar, organic raw sugar, caster sugar, date sugar, coconut sugar, invert sugar, evaporated cane juice, and confectioner’s sugar.
- Types of syrup: maple syrup, oat syrup, agave nectar, manuka honey, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, rice bran syrup, and rice syrup.
- Other forms of sugar: barley malt, molasses, cane juice crystals, lactose, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextran, malt powder,
7. Get Enough Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber
Check the label for the vitamins, minerals and fibres present in your food item. Food rich in fibre, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D is very helpful in maintaining good health. Therefore, more and more fruits and vegetables in the diet are beneficial.
FALSE OR MISLEADING CLAIMS
Beware of the false or misleading claims made by the manufacturer on the food label. Such as-
- Multigrain- Multigrain gives a very healthy sound to the food which attracts us instantly. It is mentioned when the item consists of two or more two grains in it. Hence the name multigrain. But they are most likely refined grains unless the item is marked as whole grains.
- Organic- Organic means that the ingredients in the item are grown organically. However, the label doesn’t give much information about the product. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
- Natural- Natural has a very tricky definition to it when it comes to the labels. Natural product means that at one point in the process of manufacturing, natural sources were used instead of artificial. No further information is provided beyond that.
- Gluten-free- With people going gluten-free it is often observed on the food package saying the product is gluten-free. This doesn’t assure that the product is healthy and safe. The product simply doesn’t contain ingredients such as wheat, spelt, rye, or barley. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and packed in with unhealthy fats and sugar.
- No added sugar- Some products are naturally high in sugar but in such cases, an alternative to sugar might have been used to make them sweeter.
- Low-calorie- Low calories are measured when the item contains one-third fewer calories than the brand’s original product. This could be misleading as both could have the same amount of calories.
Our Final Thought
Labels can be tricky but a good practice of reading and analysing can help you pick a better, healthier and safer food item.
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