Understand Food Labels

Food Labels

After purchasing pre-packed foods or drinks you need to decipher information that is present on the labels of food or drink. This actually helps you make healthier choices. Selecting quality food and drinks help you or your family to eat well and live healthy. There are some essential information that are present in the labels of foods and drinks. These are 1) Ingredients, 2) Nutrients (information on calories, fiber, fats), and 3) Contributions of each of these ingredients/nutrients to an average adult person in a day.

Label on the Back of Pack

These are information regarding a food or drink that are compulsory and that gives details about nutritional composition, the ingredients, known allergens, ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ dates and also the weight of a product. There is an order in listing the ingredients. Usually, starting with the highest-quantity ingredient at first and then down to the lowest- quantity ingredient at last. Therefore, if for example, sugar is at the top of this list in a food product, then the food is considered to be high in sugar.

Label on the Front of Pack

There is relatively a newer system of labeling foods on the front of the pack. This is done to check at a glance how healthy the food product is. This system is called the traffic light system and this is done for ‘front of pack’ labeling. This is an easy way to understand about a food product. Through this system you can understand how many calories are there in that food or drink. The color code is used to show if this food is low (green) or medium (amber) or high (red) in terms of saturated fat, salt and sugar. This information also shows you how those portions of that food contribute to the standard Reference Intake (RI) of a healthy adult. It is recommended that you try to choose those foods that are more greens or ambers and fewer reds. But in case, the traffic light is not available, you can always check the food’s ‘per 100g’ column which is on the ‘back of pack’ label.


Label Priority

The ‘front of pack’ food labeling is considered voluntary. This is an addition to the ‘back of pack’ food labeling which is mandatory. The 'front of pack' food labeling includes information that is meant to help consumers to decide quickly about foods. Consumers can then get idea if a food is healthier or not based on amounts of sugars, salt, and fats. It is worth mentioning that in the 'front of pack' information, carbohydrates are not included. The reason behind is that there is no specific criteria to determine the amount of different i.e. low, medium or high carbohydrates in a particular food.

Detailed information on other types of nutrients including carbohydrates is mentioned in the 'back of pack' labeling. Usually this is expressed in per 100g. As a result, people can easily compare two similar food products. Many food products are also providing nutrient contents in per portions. This is also useful as it gives an idea to consumer about the amount of carbohydrates they are consuming.


Food Label’s Importance

It is necessary that as a consumer you properly understand the importance of food label. Because you need to know what to aim for in case you’re going to choose a food product. You also need answers of questions like “What does too much fat mean?”,   “High fiber food product contains how much fiber?” or, A serve size contains how many calories?” etc.  When you get the answers of these questions then it becomes easier for you to select the better, healthier food among many. For example, nutritional information for 100g serve of a product is one thing but selling that same product in 200g per pack is another thing. Though in this case, the manufacturer is mentioning the nutritional value for 100g in the label of the pack of 200g. They want to show a product seem healthier to consumer. But in reality you are consuming more calories here than required, but unknowingly.


Information within Food Label

The Portion Size

Typically, the portion size or serving size indicates the suitable amount of food for a healthy adult over age of 18. In case of younger children or teenagers, the amounts are different. The amount you eat of a food product influences the nutrient and calorie intake. Therefore you need to think about portion size whenever you’re purchasing food. You don’t always need the amount the manufacturer recommends. You may need less amount of that food. The definition of a portion by manufacturer can be different from your requirement.

Fat, Carbohydrates, Protein, Sodium and Fiber

  • Fat: Both saturated and trans-fats are listed here. Information on cholesterol is also present. You will look for food products that have less than 10g of fat per 100g.Information on other types of fats for example, healthy omega 3s, can also be present in some products.
  • Carbohydrates: You’ll also find information on carbohydrates and sugar on the food label.You will look for food products that have less than 10g of fat per 100g. But if the food is fruit, then look for 20g or less.
  • Protein: Total amount of protein content in the product is mentioned here.
  • Fiber: Fiber content of a food product is mentioned in the food label of fiber foods.In products like breakfast, breads, and cereals that are carbohydrate based products, you need to look for more than 3g of fiber per portion.
  • Sodium: You’ll find high quantity of sodium in lots of processed foods. In those cases you’ve to try to find food products with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.


Vitamins and Minerals

There are some information that are mandatory to be present on food labels. This information include iron, calcium, vitamin A and C. Moreover, if a food product is particularly very rich on a specific vitamin or mineral such as folic acid, niacin, or other B vitamins then it is also mentioned.

Daily Requirements

Food labels can also show a percentage value which is based on daily requirements for a nutrient present in that food product.  Therefore, you can work out if that product is high or low in that certain nutrient.

Nutrient Claims

A food product must satisfy the guidelines set by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration). This is necessary to claim that a food is ‘low fat’ or high fiber’ or ‘sugar free’.

Ingredient List

A list of ingredients is always present in food label. The list starts with the ingredient mostly abundant. The list then ends with ingredient which is the smallest in quantity.


Some Other Information

There are some other issues related to food packaging. Most of these involve fat and sugar. There can be claims in food packages such as the food is fat free or low fat. Fat free foods usually have no fat but in this case you need to check the ingredients list. In that list you may find information for added sugar. These sugars are used to replace the fat. You also need to check the ingredients list for presence of fats which may replace the sugar. This is needed when you see that the food package says it is sugar free. In case, the food package says it has no added sugar then it still there may be naturally occurring sugar. Low fat foods have 3g (or less) of fat per 100g and low sugar food products have less than 5g of sugar per 100g. Sometimes there are food products that have 30 per cent less fat or sugar than their standard version. These foods are known as reduced fat or sugar. And in case there is no nutritional information in the food label, then you need to at least check the ingredients list.


Reading the Label Correctly (6 Ways)

You can select food products properly if you can read the label like an expert:

  1. For average adult person, there is Reference Intake (RI) percentages that are given per portion. You need to check how much of that food pack counts as a portion. This will help you avoid consuming extra calories, sugar, and fat than required.
  2. Usually, you should go for green, sometimes amber, and red as a treat when you are going to select a food product with traffic light labels.
  3. Remember that blood glucose levels are raised by carbohydrates intake. But front side food labels don’t include the amount of carbohydrate. In those cases, you need to check back label for the total carbohydrate. Back label mentions carbohydrates from starchy food to sugars.
  4. The information that is mentioned on traffic lights regarding sugar, does not differentiate between natural sugar sources (or fructose) and artificial/added sugar sources (sucrose or glucose). If the ingredients list contains syrup, cane sugar, molasses or terms ending in ‘ose’ within the top position, then this suggests that the food contains more added sugar. In this case you should choose an alternative food if can find. You also need to be careful about the portion you eat.
  5. When choosing between two fiber products chose the one that has more fiber. You’ll find information on the fiber content on back label of food pack. We should consume more fiber as part of the daily diet.
  6. You’ve to compare between the portion sizes defined by the manufacturer and decided by yourself. The portion sizes may differ in this case. You can reduce your portions to lose weight or keep a healthy weight.

Last update: March 02, 2017 08:20:55 pm

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