Reading Food Labels
Do you ever look at food labels before you buy anything at the grocery store? I’m sure most of us do not read the nutrition information on food labels. You will be able to understand food labeling after you finish reading this page. Or at least be able to identify the basic components of the food label, such as the total calories, fat calories and so on. So, the next time you go grocery shopping, you will be able to identify whether a food is ‘healthy’ or not and make better food choices.
Food companies today use all kinds of marketing gimmicks to generate sales. From eye catching slogans and endearing words to roping in celebrities to promote a brand; they want people to notice their brand and sell. Vegetable oil spreads, oftentimes specify “Zero cholesterol” on the containers, in fancy eye-catching colors. This excites the usual consumer who goes ahead and buys the product. We come across food products stating “fat-free”, “low calorie”, “low fat”, “reduced fat”, “low cholesterol”, “low salt”, “healthy” on their labels. Let us try to understand what they actually mean.
What is a calorie? Have you ever thought about it? So often we say its low calorie or I don’t want this, its high calorie. Do you know what it means? Well, a calorie is a unit of energy. When you eat or drink anything (except water or carbonated water), you gain energy.
Let us understand what each of the fancy terms actually mean.
Low calorie: When a serving contains 40 calories or lesser, it is low in calories.
What exactly is a serving size, you may wonder. To understand food servings, the food guide pyramid is the best guide.
Low fat: When a serving contains 3 grams of fat or less or is less than 30% calories from fat, it is a low fat food.
Low cholesterol: When a serving contains 20 mgs or less cholesterol, the food is said to be low in cholesterol.
Reduced fat: It is good to know that a when a food label reads “reduced” or “reduced fat”, it simply means that it has 25% less fat, calories or cholesterol as compared to the original product. It need not be actually a low fat or low calorie food item. For. E.g. If the original food product contains 2 teaspoons i.e. 10 grams of fat, the reduced fat food product would contain 1.5 teaspoon i.e. 7.5 grams fat. This is not anywhere even close to the requirement for low fat.
Lite: When the food label reads “lite”, the product has 1/3rd fewer calories or 50% less fat as compared to the original food product.
No added sugar: When the food label reads “no added sugar”, it simply means that during food processing, additional sugar has not been added. It does not consider the natural sugars present in the food. This can be misleading to a lot of people as the product is still high in sugar especially if the food is high in natural sugar. For e.g. A plum cake may be made with lots of plums, dates and raisins but no additional sugar may be added. These dry fruits are high in concentrated natural sugars so the product is not low in sugar. Moreover, they add to the fat content of the diet. Although the products reads “no added sugars”, it is still not healthy.
Low Sodium: When a serving has less than 140 milligrams of sodium, it a low sodium food.
Very Low Sodium: When a serving size has less than 35 milligrams of sodium, it is a very low sodium food.
Healthy: is one of the most misleading terms. It must meet the requirements for low fat and low saturated fat. It should also contain 10% of the daily value for one of the following: Vitamin C, A, fiber, iron, calcium, protein. The bad news is that this does not mean that the product is low in calories, sugar, cholesterol, or sodium. Hence, be very careful when you read a fancy splash of “healthy” written across the food packaging.