Why Reading Food Labels Is Important
Today, consumers are highly health conscious, and oftentimes food manufacturers can use misleading tricks so consumers can buy their products.
Unfortunately this is done quite often, even when the food is highly processed and unhealthy to consume.
The regulations behind food labeling are very complex, and it comes as no surprise how average consumer has really hard time to understand all of them.
This article is a brief guide in reading food labels, and how to sort out the junk from the truly healthy foods.
Don’t Get Fooled By The Labels On Front Of The Packaging
This comes as a best tip when reading food labels, and you definitely need to learn reading food labels without being tricked.
Front labels almost always try to lead into purchasing products by making health claims. Unfortunately, manufacturers just want to make you believe that their product is healthier than other similar ones.
There are researches showing that adding health claims to front labels ALWAYS affects people’s choices, making people believe the chosen product is much healthier than the same product without a list of health claims.
For example, if you only take a look at the variety of “healthy cereals”, you’ll find that despite the label, these products are not so healthy (too much sugar presence).
Check Out The Ingredients List
When reading food labels, note that almost always product ingredients are listed by quantity, starting from the highest and ending with the lowest amount.
This means that the first listed ingredient is the one which is most used by the manufacturer.
Always check out the first three ingredients, because they are the ones who are most present in the product.
In case you notice that the first ingredients include refined grains, sugar or hydrogenated oils, you can be pretty sure that the product is unhealthy.
Instead, try to choose items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients.
Also note that if the ingredients list is longer than 2–3 lines, you can assume that the product is highly processed, and should be avoided, or to find a healthier version (if any).
Check The Serving Sizes
The back of nutrition labels should state how many calories and nutrients are in a single serving of the product you have chosen to buy.
In most cases, these serving sizes are often much smaller portions than people generally eat in one meal.
For example, one serving may be half a can of soda, a quarter of a cookie, half a chocolate bar or a single biscuit.
By doing so, manufacturers try to deceive consumers into thinking that the food has fewer calories and less sugar than it actually does.
Unfortunately, many people are completely unaware of this serving size scheme.
They often think that the entire container is a single serving, while it may actually is consisted of couple of them, and there goes your diet.
You will wonder how come you eat so little, and gain weight in return so fast.
Well, here’s your answer.
Check the serving size and measure prior consuming.
That’s the only way you can calculate how many calories you will eat in one serving size.
In case you want to know the nutritional value of what you’re eating, simply multiply the serving given on the back, by the number of servings you consumed.
And that’s it.
Which Are The Most Misleading Claims
Health claims are present on packaged food to catch your attention and convince you that the product is healthy.
It is advisable not “buy” those claims.
These are the most common ones you can find when reading food label, and this is what they actually mean:
This label says very little about whether the product is healthy or not. For example, if you read “organic sugar”, don’t get fooled- it is still sugar.
Only certified organically grown products can be guaranteed to be organic.
Low-calorie products have to contain 30% fewer calories than the same brand’s original product. However, one brand’s low-calorie version may contain similar calories as the original of another product.
A ‘low fat’ or ‘low in fat’ food must contain no more than 3 g of fat per 100 g of food. A liquid must contain no more than 1.5 g fat per 100 g.
Do you have enough time when going to supermarket to read and compare all products you tend to buy?
Almost all light products are processed to reduce either calories or fat, and some products are simply watered down. Check carefully to see if anything has been added instead, such as sugar.
“Light” does not necessarily means it is – light.
This does not necessarily mean that the product resembles anything natural.
It simply means that at some point the manufacturer had a natural source (for example, apples or rice) to work with.
No added sugar
Some products are naturally high in sugar.
The fact that they don’t have added sugar doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Unhealthy sugar substitutes may also have been added.
A claim stating that sugars have not been added to a food, and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer, may only be made where the product does not contain any added mono- or disaccharides or any other food used for its sweetening properties.
If sugars are naturally present in the food, the following indication should also appear on the label: ‘CONTAINS NATURALLY OCCURRING SUGARS’.
A claim that a food is sugars-free, and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer, may only be made where the product contains no more than 0,5 g of sugars per 100 g or 100 ml.
Whole grain product
In these cases, there is high probability that very little whole grain in the product.
Check the ingredients list and see where the whole grain is placed. If it is not in the first 3 ingredients, then the amount is totally negligible.
Gluten-free does not always mean its healthy.
It simply means that the product doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye or barley. Many foods are gluten-free, but can be highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
Yes, multigrain sounds very healthy, but basically just means that there is more than one type of grain in the product.
These are most likely refined grains, unless the product is marked as whole grain.
Recently, low-carb diets have been linked with improved health.
However, processed foods that are labeled low-carb are usually just processed junk foods, similar to processed low-fat junk foods.
This label almost always means that the fat has been reduced at the cost of adding more sugar. Be very careful and read the ingredients listed on the back.
Low-fat can mean other unhealthy ingredients instead.
A claim that a food is low in fat, and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer, may only be made where the product contains no more than 3 g of fat per 100 g for solids or 1,5 g of fat per 100 ml for liquids (1,8 g of fat per 100 ml for semi-skimmed milk).
Fortified or enriched
This basically means that some nutrients have been added to the product. For example, vitamin D is often added to milk.
Is fortified milk healthy?
Zero trans fat
Many processed foods have a name that refers to a natural flavor, such as strawberry yogurt. However, there may not be any fruit in the product, only chemicals designed to taste like fruit.
You have been mislead and deceived.
Unfortunately, there are many truly healthy foods out there that actually are organic, whole grain, natural, etc. However, just having these labels does NOT guarantee that the product is healthy.
Misleading Sugar Names
Sugar can have countless names, and many of them you may not recognize as such, and the tricky food manufacturers use this to their advantage.
They purposely add many different kinds of sugar to their products so they can hide the actual amount of sugar presence.
Oftentimes, they list a “healthier” ingredient at the top, and mention sugar further down. Yes, the product may be loaded with sugar, but it doesn’t necessarily appear as one of the top 3 ingredients.
If you want to avoid consuming a lot of sugar, it may be wise to look out for the following names of sugar in ingredient lists while reading food labels:
Types of syrup
- carob syrup
- golden syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- agave nectar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- oat syrup
- rice bran syrup
- rice syrup
Types of sugar
- beet sugar
- brown sugar
- buttered sugar
- cane sugar
- caster sugar
- coconut sugar
- date sugar
- golden sugar
- invert sugar
- muscovado sugar
- organic raw sugar
- raspadura sugar
- evaporated cane juice
- confectioner’s sugar
Other added sugars
- barley malt
- cane juice crystals
- corn sweetener
- crystalline fructose
- malt powder
- ethyl maltol
- fruit juice concentrate
There are so many more names for sugar to list, but these are the most common ones used by manufacturers.
Any of these can be present in your “healthy products”, and if you see any of these in the top spots on the ingredients lists, you can be sure that the product is high in added sugar.
Understanding food labels, including what ingredients and additives are present foods, can seem like a daunting task.
Fortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) serves as the primary regulatory agency responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of foods, and requires that ingredients intentionally added to foods be listed on food labels.
In other jurisdictions, like the European Union, ingredients are listed by name, functional class and specific name or designated E number.
Reading all of this can be quite confusing, and who has so much time to read each label on the packaged food?
However, if you decide to go for packaged foods, by reading food labels you can sort out the junk from the higher quality products, and keep in mind that whole food doesn’t need an ingredients list, because the whole food IS the ingredient by itself.
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- Foods You Should Avoid If You Are Diabetic