Understanding Food Labels

Tuesday, March 18, 2020

Nutrition Fact Labels on the packaged food products have been made mandatory in India since September 2008 by The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with a motive to enable consumers to make informed choices while purchasing food products.

But not too many people paid attention to them in the beginning. With the rise of health problems and diseases associated with poor eating habits, people are now increasingly reading the Nutrition Information Panels on foods. Many a time, the information is not used effectively due to a lack of knowledge on their contents.

Now, People look at food labels for a variety of reasons. But whatever the reason, many consumers would like to know how to use this information more effectively and easily. The following label-reading skills are intended to make it easier for you to use the Nutrition Facts labels to make quick, informed food decisions to help you choose a healthy diet.

Let's take a closer look at how to effectively interpret a food label without missing the important points.

The following food label is updated with the latest FSSAI format. Do not miss on the highlights while reading the Nutrition Labels.

1. Serving Size and Servings per container.

Serving size shows how much is the recommended size or the quantity for one serving and is usually stated in regular measures such as scoop, tablespoon, cups etc.

Tip: Compare two different products using 100 grams column to make the best choice. Per Serving column will help you know how much nutrients you will get in 1 serving. It is important to know that your portion size should be the same as the serve size mentioned on the label.

Servings per container shows how many recommended servings are there in the entire package or container

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2. Calories per serving

This state the number of calories present per recommended size or in one serving of the product. If you eat a double serving, you are consuming double calories as well. This also mentions 'calories from fat' present in per serving of the product.

Calorie Guide

  • 40 Calories is low
  • 100 Calories is moderate
  • 400 Calories or more is high

3. Nutrients

a) Which ones to limit

Always read your labels for the quantities of- Total Sugars, PUFAs and Trans Fats. Eating products that are high in the above mentioned increases the risk of heart diseases, cancer, high blood pressure etc and so need to be limited.

Products that claim they are cholesterol free usually have trans fats in them and the ones that claim are fat-free have too many calories coming from sugar! Low fat does not always mean low in calories.

Many times, prime ingredients like Sugars and High Fructose Corn Syrups are added in higher quantities to bring flavour and have alternate names. Ensure you know the same.

Here are the detailed list of alternate names of Sugars.

Sugars- Dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.

b) Which ones to consume more

Nutrients such as Protein, Saturated fat, Iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Vitamin D, Selenium &Zinc and are beneficial to human health and should consume more.

4. Percentage Daily Value (% DV)

% DV helps to understand how much percentage of every nutrient present in one serving of that product contributes to the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for that particular nutrient. It can help you determine whether a food is high or low in a nutrient: 5% or less is low, 20% or more is high. This will help you decide whether the food is good or bad depending on the nutrient content.

%DV is calculated based on a 2000 calorie diet for healthy adults and are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack.

The nutrients that have "upper daily limits" are listed first on the footnote. Apart from this, footnote usually mentions that % DVs are calculated based on a 2000 calorie diet

5. Ingredients

Ingredients on the label usually are mentioned in the descending order of the amount present in the product. It means the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first and vice versa.

Always check the first 3 ingredients to verify the quality of the product. This is predominantly helpful to individuals with food sensitivities, intolerance or those who wish to avoid/limit certain ingredients like sugar etc.

To summarize a few important points:

  • The % DV is based on a 2,000-calorie diet and remember that this varies from person to person.
  • Remember that Coconut oil+ MCT, Nuts/ Nut butter, Ghee, Avocados & Whole eggs and fat content in Red/ White meat are good sources of fat.
  • Trans-fats should be completely avoided.
  • Food with 5% of a certain nutrient is a low source of that nutrient.
  • Food with 10 - 20% of some nutrient is a good source of that nutrient.
  • Food with over 20% of some nutrient is an excellent source of that nutrient.
  • Most of the daily calorie intake should come from Proteins and Saturated Fats.
  • Avoid sugary drinks, refined unhealthy snacks, junk food and sugar.
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We Say:

Above mentioned label reading techniques will surely help you choose healthy foods and drinks without depending on the false and misleading advertisements and label claims. Do not be fooled, stick to what you have learned and choose wisely!