Nutritionist Explains How To Read A Food Label
Nutrition information on food labels is an important tool to promote a balanced diet. It can especially be helpful for people suffering from diabetes or those who have high lipid levels.
Food labels help in comparing nutritional values of similar food products
As a consumer, we are certainly health conscious and want to know more about the food we eat. We want to be able to select the healthier options out of the different types of foods available off the shelf. To empower the consumer, food regulators have made it mandatory to display basic facts about what each food product contains on the outer label.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has defined food labels as any tag, brand, mark, pictorial or other descriptive matter written, printed, stenciled, marked, embossed, graphic, perforated, stamped or impressed on or attached to container, cover, lid or crown if any food package and includes a paper insert.
Understanding of the food label is very important to have clarity of what we are consuming. We should look into the following ten-point checklist while we are buying a product:
1. Pick a product of the trusted brand.
2. Compare the prices of different brands selling the same product.
3. Identify if it is vegetarian or not from the logo.
4. Check the freshness of the product from the best before or date of manufacture.
5. Look for the ingredients which we would like/ not like in the food product. For example, we may want to see whether whole wheat flour is present in the bread we are selecting, as it will be more nutritious or if one is allergic to any ingredient (e.g. peanuts, soya etc.), we may want to check on that at first.
6. Choose the food/brands that have no added preservatives or artificial colours, or have fewer additives in general. Diabetics and those wanting to avoid sugar may look for products which are sweetened with low or zero calorie artificial sweeteners.
7. Choose the foods/brands which give us more of desirable nutrients like fibre, protein, vitamins, calcium, Iron, Iodine etc.
8. Reject foods/ brands with high amounts of fat, saturated fats, cholesterol, trans fats, sodium and sugar which are harmful for health
9. Count calories and other nutrients attributed by packaged food to our diet
10. Choose appropriate serving sizes of foods and beverages, which will help us to consume a variety of foods according to our requirement levels.
Nutrition information on food labels is thus an important tool to promote a balanced diet, thereby enhancing public health. This information assists consumers to better understand the nutritional value of food, and enables them to compare the nutritional values of similar food products and then make healthy food choices based on the relevant information. For those on special diets (e.g. people suffering from diabetes or high blood lipid levels), nutrition information on food labels can be used to make suitable food choices.
(Vandita Jain is Delhi-based nutritionist and Diabetes Educator)
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