The tricky business of nutrition labels

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Nutrition labels are as important as they are difficult to read

Consuming any product without knowing exactly what it contains can be ‘dangerous’ in the long run. In extreme cases, immediately too. In a world run by misleading advertisements and claims it is vital that we differentiate between mislabeled junk and truly healthy foods.
Nutrition labels are as important as they are difficult to read.

Here’s a Checklist of label reading skills you must follow to read nutrition labels like a Pro!!

Start by ignoring the claims on the front label

Ignoring the front label claims will keep you away from products that lure you into purchasing by making false/misleading health claims.
Read the Nutritional label and let it speak for the product.

Go through the Ingredients List

The ingredients on a nutritional label are listed by quantity.
This means that the ingredient used the most will be listed first and least used ingredient will be listed at the end.
This will give you an idea about added nutritious item based claims.
(For example, if first item in the list is a type of sugar, refined grains or hydrogenated oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy.)

Number of ingredients describes the processing of a product

Products with a long list of ingredients may mean that the product has gone through a lot of processing.

What to remember – Try looking for products that have top three natural ingredients and be skeptical of foods with long lists of ingredients.

Always watch out for the Serving Size

Nutrition Labels often state the amount of calories, sugars, fat, etc as per the serving size mentioned. This serving size is usually very less than the amount we consume.
A single serving, as mentioned on a pack of biscuits can be anywhere from a quarter of a biscuit to a single biscuit.
To know the actual amount of calories, sugars, fat, etc, the amount per serving sizes will have to be multiplied by the total number of servings the pack contains.
For example, If on a pack of 10 biscuits, the amount of calories for a single serving is 10 and a single serving equals 1 biscuit. Then, the total amount of calories in the pack will be 10 multiplied by 10 biscuits (single servings) i.e. 100 calories.

What to remember – Manufacturers often list a much smaller serving size than what most people consume in one sitting. Pay close attention to the serving sizes mentioned and calculate the amount of calories, fat, etc for yourself.

Don’t get deceived by the name of the ingredients

Manufacturers often use different names to describe sugars, carbs, calories, etc.
Sugar, for example, has many names like corn sweetener, dextran, molasses, malt syrup, maltose, and evaporated cane juice. Many of these names we do not recognize as Sugar. But, if any of these appear at the top of the ingredients list or even appear several times throughout the list, the product could be high on sugar.

What to Remember – To avoid accidentally consuming a lot of sugar or any other forbidden ingredient, watch out for the sobriquets of harmful ingredients.

Let Percent Daily Values Guide you

Percent Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts label is a guide to the nutrients present in one serving of food. You can use these numbers to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan. But, do remember that the numbers describe the Percent of nutrients SUGGESTED to be consumed on a DAILY basis.
These values are recommended for someone who typically consumes 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. Keep in mind that you may or may not consume the above number of calories per day or have been advised by a doctor to consume more or less of these.

What to Remember – Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 – 2,500 calories a day. You may consume more or less calories per day. Accordingly, for some nutrients you may need more or less of the mentioned 100 percent DV.
Although processed foods are convenient, they can be extremely harmful! The best way to avoid being misguided by product labels is to avoid processed food altogether. Following a diet based on real food could be one of the most important things you can do to maintain good health and high quality of life. If you still decide to buy packaged food, make sure you sort out the good healthy products from the unhealthy ones.

Now that you know what to expect on your label reading adventure, we hope you make healthier eating choices!

Ashwin Bhadri, CEO, Equinox Labs

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