Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reading Food Labels

Packaged food products have ingressed into the Indian kitchen in a big way. However, how do you know whether a particular packaged food is good for you and contains the right kind of ingredients and nutrients recommended for excellent health?

It is thus very important that the consumer knows how to read a food label to make wise choices pertaining to their regular diet.

Nutrition facts labels consist of five primary sections that are separated by bold, black horizontal lines.

1. Serving size:

Serving size of a product is either mentioned in household measures (e.g. 1 cup) or in metric amounts (e.g. 100 g) that are easy for the consumer to understand. Knowing the serving size of a product is vital to the consumer and has two advantages:

He can allot the right quantity of that product in a meal.
He can compare the product with other similar products available in the market.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size:   cup (120 ml)

2. Total calories and calories from fat:

This section indicates the amount of total calories / energy provided by one serving of that product.

It will also mention the calories contributed by fat alone. 

Amount per serving
Calories   60         Calories from fat    15

3. Total fats, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates and proteins:

The third section gives details on the total amount of fats and its percentage daily values. The total fats are further broken down into saturated fat and transfat. It is not necessary (shown in the label below) that the amount of saturated and trans fat add up to the total grams of fat mentioned. This is because the product will also contain unsaturated fats that could or could not have been stated.

The total grams of carbohydrate are further divided into dietary fibre and sugars. A product labeled sugar free does not mean that it is devoid of carbohydrate. Sugar can be present in other forms. Check the ingredient list for corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.

Dietary fibre and proteins are essential in the diet and thus opting the products high in protein and dietary fibre should be considered. However, limit products with high amounts of fat, especially saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and sugar since these are associated with various health consequences such as obesity, cardiac problems, diabetes etc. high levels of sodium also need to be restricted in hypertension, cardiac problems, edema.

% Daily Value*
Total Fat
Saturated Fat 1.5g                   2%
Tarns Fat  0g                           3%
Cholesterol     15g
Sodium   890g                         37%   
Total carbohydrate 8g             3%  
Dietary fibre 1g                        4%      
Sugars    1g
Protein    3g

4. Vitamins and minerals:

This section always includes values for Vitamins A, C, calcium and iron. It might also include amount of other vitamins or minerals that the product contains. High amounts of Vitamins A and C are important for their antioxidant properties. Calcium is required for the development of bones and teeth and iron is essential to carry oxygen to all body parts.

Vitamin A      4%                  Calcium       0%
Vitamin C      0%                   Iron            2%

5. Daily reference value:

This is the footnote that provides details regarding the percentage daily values based on a 2000 or a 2500 calorie diet.
When nutrition facts labels are large enough, they will list out values based on both caloric intakes. The information provided is however, just a general guideline that provides adequate information to know if you are selecting foods that enhance or hinder your nutritional goals.

What does the percentage daily value mean?

The percentage daily value refers to the percentage of the daily requirements of a particular nutrient. Less than 5% of the percentage daily value is too less and more than 20% of the percentage daily value is too high. Trans fat does not have any % daily value. e.g. If a particular product gives 4% of your daily requirement of Vitamin A for a 2000 calorie diet, it means that, if 500 mcgs of Vitamin A is the total Recommended Daily Allowance for a man who consumes 2000 kcals diet, then from this product he gets around 20 mcgs of Vitamin A which fulfills 4% of his Daily Recommended Allowance of Vitamin A.

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values amy be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
                       Calories       2000         2500
Total Fat       Less than         65g           80g
Sat. Fat        Less than         20g           25g
Cholesterol   Less than        300mg       300mg
Sodium        Less than      2400mg     2400mg
Total Carbohydrate              300g         375g
Dietary Fibre                        25g          30g

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, very helpful to learn something new....Thank for sharing that great information.

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