Do You Know How to Read Nutrition Labels?
I spoke to a group of parents and children on how to read nutrition labels this weekend and decided it will be good to blog about this for a larger audience. From my experience, even among the educated, ‘Nutrition Literacy’ is far from where it should be and learning to read nutrition labels can be a good starting point.
Most of us walk into a grocery store and add items to our basket, blissfully unaware of what nutrition it actually delivers. In fact, many of us hardly ever stop to read the label and even if we do get around to looking at it, we may not be sure what the numbers imply. So here are some pointers which will help you decide if the product falls in the “healthy or not so healthy category” and how often you or your child should consume it become a nutritionist.
“No Label Don’t Buy ” -check for nutrition label on the food pack you buy. Today, all food manufacturers in the country have to declare the following on a label -nutritional facts per 100 g or 100 ml or per serving of the product:
energy value in kcal,
total carbohydrate and sugar,
the amount of protein,
fat in gram (g) or ml, and
vitamins and minerals for which a health claim is made
“Match Nutrition information to the quantity you eat”- next check if the nutrition information is given per 100 g or per serving.
Net weight grams = grams declared on the nutrition label – the package is a one serve pack, say net weight is 30g and the nutrition label gives information for a serving size, then the numbers you see on the label is the nutrition you get from the pack.
Net weight (g or ml) > grams/ml declared on the nutrition label – a good example for this is the fruit drinks/juices segment – nutrition facts are often shown per 100 ml even when a typical serve size is 200 ml. So if you are not alert to this fact, you might assume that your child is consuming only half the calories /sugar!
Net weight (g) < grams on nutrition label- The single serve snack packs which we buy frequently for children weigh approximately 30 g while nutrition information is given for 100 g, so we need to do some simple division here else you might be left wondering how a small packet can deliver so many calories!
“Stay away from large snack packs” – they weigh more than 100 g, but present nutrition information for 100 g. Unfortunately, current labeling norms do not mandate serving size, and even if they did when was the last time you were able to convince your child to close the packet after eating 15 chips? So, it is wiser to stick to the single serve /smaller packs!
“Deciphering the calories further”: What is declared on the pack is the total calories you get from the product. To arrive at the number of calories from fat multiply the amount of fat, given in grams by 9, for carbohydrates and proteins, multiply by 4.
“Sugar watch”: The number declared against carbohydrates indicates ‘total carbohydrates’ which includes complex carbohydrates (like what is found in cereals), simple sugars as found in fruit, milk and cane sugar and fibre. Check if the product contains added sugar. Some responsible fruit beverage companies do differentiate between the added sugar and the sugar coming from the fruit but many do not. So, if you are not able to figure out, take a look at the ingredient list on the pack – if the ingredient list includes ‘sugar’ in addition to water and juice concentrate, you can be certain that sugar has been added to make the product.
“Fat Facts”: There are good fats and bad fats. But in our country, companies are not required to provide a break-up of the fat in foods unless they make health claims like ‘low fat,’ ‘low cholesterol’. As a result, one can never be sure of the type of fat used in the packaged food. One way to find out is to look at the ingredient list for words like ‘partially hydrogenated fat’ ‘shortening,’ as these products have a higher proportion of bad fats (trans fat). In the absence of any of the above information it might be best to avoid products which are high in fat content.