How to read the fine print on labels of food products


The jumble of letters and numbers on the labels of food products you buy may seem tough to understand. So we get nutritionists to point out the red flags you should be looking out for

Start here

Checking the ingredient list should be the minimum that you do. The ingredients are listed in decreasing order of their percentage weight in the food. So make sure that the list has more natural food items than chemical-sounding names. Also check if the the first three items on the list are in their wholesome form like brown rice and wholewheat instead of something refined or processed like just wheat flour (which is maida) and sugar (which may make an appearance as high fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose and many more).

Look at numbers

Food products may list their calorie intake according to serving size. This can be confusing. Say you buy a 250ml bottled drink. The nutrition list will mention the amount of carbs and sugar it will contain in one serve - which may be 100 ml. This means you'll need to work out the maths on everything you eat and drink that's packaged. Serving sizes are usually for adults, so there's no indication about how much a child should eat.

Check the source

Look at where the calories are coming from: carbohydrates like sugar, or saturated fat? Keep an eye out for transfat, which should be close to zero, and your sodium content (should be low). Micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium should be at least 20% greater in fortified food than regular food.

Identify marketing hype

Many food products announce that they are fat-free or sugar-free in order to attract health conscious consumers. Now food that proclaims to be fat-free might be high in sugar, to make up for the lost weight. You’d be better off eating a little bit of healthy fat than something so high in sugar. Some other products have tags announcing that they have ‘0% cholesterol’, but plant-based products don’t have cholesterol anyway.

Understand percentage values

It is not easy for the layperson to remember the exact weight of fat, carbs, sugar or micronutrients your body is supposed to get. Which is why, you need to look at your Daily Value percentage instead. It’s basically the percentage of your daily nutrition quota that this food product fulfills per serving: a number that’s easier to keep track of. Unfortunately, it is not compulsory in India to list the nutrients according to the %DV, however if available, definitely make a note of it. Also differentiate between Indian products and foreign ones. Ours will go by the Recommended Daily Allowance for Indians, which is less than that of say, the US.

Stay safe

Look out for the amount of preservatives and added colour used. The preservatives used are generally marked as safe by the FSSAI, but some people may get allergies. And obviously, the less the preservatives used, the better. Pay attention to the ‘Best before’ date and the batch number. If the product is unsatisfactory in any way, the batch number will help you file a complaint.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 6:06:32 PM |

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