Most of us are spending their hard earned money on packaged processed foods, but do we even bother to know what exactly we are spending on? Reading the nutrition label of your packaged foods should now take a priority in your life.
The lack of time and enthusiasm to spend some time cooking has made us slaves of packaged food products. They not only provide convenience but are also delectable, thus satisfying our taste buds considerably. But, have you ever given a thought to their nutrient content? How good they are for your health or how they affecting your health adversely.
Though all the nutritional information about the packaged food we are spending on is mentioned on their nutrition labels, but the question here is, how many of us can actually understand what’s written on those labels? You must at least be able to identify what all trans-fats, chemicals or preservatives are present in the food you are buying.
With the font size of the nutritional labels on the back of your food packet getting smaller with time, it has become increasingly difficult to decipher the nutrition labels. This makes people fall for the tall health claims these packaged food companies make for all the calorie and preservative laden food they are serving us.
The key to exploring the adventure called ‘how to read nutrition labels of packaged foods?’ all you need to do is to decode the food labels smartly. The first thing that you should read on a label is serving size, if it says 50 calories for half cup and you end up eating 1 full cup, it means you have consumed 100 calories in one serving.
Here we bring you a list of top things you must look out for in a nutrition label.
Low Fat: In most nutrition labels, the percentage of fat is directly proportional to the serving size. For example, if the label says 15 grams of fat per serving, the total amount of fat you will end up consuming will completely depend on how many servings you are taking. If a package of pastry containing 2 pastries says 150 calories per serving it means 150 calories per pastry.
Also, low fat does not always mean low calories. Often food manufacturers add other ingredients like flour and salt, to compensate for the fat, which brings flavor and thickness to the food. These additional ingredients only add to the calorie count of that food item.
Natural Flavors: Now, lets accept the fact that we all get attracted to the food labels that scream ‘Natural Flavors’. This might make you feel wholesome, fizzy and warm but the truth is you don’t always get what you see.
It will be interesting to note here that no food and drug administration organization across the globe has defined the term natural. However, they do allow the use of the same until the food it is mentioned upon does not contain any kind of artificial flavor, color or synthetic substance.
But all the natural as well as artificial flavors contain chemicals, the only difference is for natural flavors chemicals are derived from plants and animals, whereas artificial flavors are derived from edible sources. So, it means even natural flavors have complicated chemical makeup, its just that they are more identical to natural flavoring.
Thickeners and Stabilizers: Mostly found in jellies, ready to eat food products, desserts, frozen foods, etc. thickeners and stabilizers improve the texture of the food. They do no good to your health and are mostly for stabilizing and maintaining the consistency of the food. Most commonly used food stabilizer is Agar Agar, often found in canned meat.
Preservatives: The main objective behind adding preservatives in packaged foods is to protect them against the growth of microbes such as bacteria and moulds. Preservatives are added to increase the shelf life of food and are mostly added during the storage process. Commonly used food preservatives are sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: Now this tops the list when it comes to the nutrition labels of packaged food industry. Right from your ketchup bottle, to dairy products, biscuits, baked food, carbonated drinks and a lot more, you are bound to find this on their nutrition label.
But do you know what exactly it is? It is an artificial sweetener made from corn and is widely famous because its sweeter then sugar. Also, its relatively cheap and can increase the shelf life of food.
Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers are another common ingredient used in mayonnaise, salad dressings, margarine, sauces, etc. They are used to obtain a stable mixture of liquids which would not separate quickly. To find whether your food contains emulsifiers or not look for E on nutrition label followed by a number.
Sodium: Most of the processed foods come packed with sodium, which is used a type of preservative in them. According to the daily dietary recommendation, a person should take not more than 6 to 10 grams of salt per day. But we end up consuming more than 20 grams per day unknowingly. How? The packaged food we eat is packed with sodium. So, the next time you grab a packet of your favorite chips check the label for sodium content and you will be surprised to know the amount of salt they are feeding you.
MSG or Monosodium Glutamate: A common flavor enhancer is usually found in ready to eat soups, chips, salad dressings, canned vegetables, etc. Do you know that excess of MSG can have some serious side effects over your health such as frequent headaches, allergies, nausea, etc. It is also an internationally recognized food additive, which should ideally be avoided even in small quantities.
Now that we have deciphered most of the ingredients mentioned on the nutrition label of your favorite foods, it will be easier for you to understand their true meaning. So, the next time you will pick your favorite beverage do check whether it says naturally flavored or artificial flavors. The trick is to read between the lines smartly.