Though I believe that diet of whole and fresh foods is always best. But even people who mostly prefer to make lot of their food on their own still rely on packaged foods for various food items. So it is not possible to avoid packaged foods 100%. But we can make better choices by understanding the food labels. Food labels really matter a lot because all of us know sugar matters, salt matters, serving size matters….
Every food packet we buy from stores is claiming one thing or other like ‘refined‘, ‘whole‘, ‘pure‘, ‘all natural‘, ‘natural‘, ‘fat free‘, ‘sugar free‘, ‘cholestrol free‘, ‘organic‘. These are all marketing techniques and they use such fancy words to trap consumers. Products labeled as one of these may not always be healthy. So the question is “how to know whether products that we see on shelves are really healthy or not?“.
Most common way to determine if the product is good or bad, is reading the food labels, but shockingly the text on labels is also not easy to interpret because of many reasons, like –
- Companies use the scientific language/codes to hide the harmful ingredients,
- Companies use the portations/quantity ratio wisely to confuse and trick consumers,
- The ingredients are not always known to us, making it hard to decide on spot
Here is quick checklist to help you decode those labels on products –
‘natural‘ It may have pesticides and other chemicals
‘fat free‘ but may be loaded with sugar.
‘sugar free‘ It may have more calories than your regular version
‘zero trans fat‘ Processed food is marked as ‘trans fat free’ if there is less than 0.2 gm of trans fat per serving. But it is for 1 serving. If you are eating more than 1 servings a day, you know what are you eating.
‘organic‘ organic food does not mean healthy. It may still be packed with fat, sugar and calories.
‘made with organic ingredients‘ It doesn’t mean 100% organic. It must have min 70% of all ingredients as organic.
‘cholesterol free‘ Cholesterol is only found in animal products. If its written on plant based products like vegetable oils. Its only to attract you otherwise no vegetable oil can have cholesterol. No point in comparing it with other oils.
‘wholegrain‘ ‘multigrain‘ There is not any limit or quantity fixed for any product to be qualified as ‘wholegrain’ . So it may be possible that bread or biscuit you are eating may have more maida than atta and claim it to be ‘wholegrain’ with shouting label. When it comes to ‘multigrain’ it means that product is made up of using many different grains but that may be refined or whole (who knows??)
Ingredients are outlined in descending order by weight
It means that first component makes up the biggest percentage of the food. Check the component list to place things you’d like to avoid, like hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil, that are full of trans fats. The earlier any component appears in the list, the more of it there is in the food. So if any of the components like sugar, oil or what you want to avoid are in the first three in the list then that’s not for you.
You should use the info on the Nutrition Facts label to compare foods or look for better options. These food labels are specifically helpful if you are planning your diet the healthy way. The info on the left side of the label supplies total quantities per serving of the various nutrients. Use total sums to compare labels of comparable foods.
(image source: wikipedia)
And here is what fssai has to say about labelling . These are helpful labelling leaflets by fssai.
What do YOU think? What would you like to see on labels?