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A Guide to Understand Food Labels

Have you ever found yourself staring at a food label, trying to decipher the mysterious numbers and percentages on the back of your favorite snack? Well, you’re not alone. Understanding food labels can be a daunting task, but it’s an essential skill for anyone looking to maintain a healthy diet. In this post, we'll explain what food labels are, how to understand them, and what to look out for and avoid.

What is a Food Label?

A food label is a piece of information provided on the packaging of food products that contain important information information about the nutritional value and ingredients of a particular product, helping consumers to make healthy choices and avoid potential allergens or harmful additives. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) requires that all packaged foods have a food label that includes the following information:

Serving Size and number of servings per container
Allergen information
Nutritional information such as calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins and minerals
% Daily Value
List of Ingredients
Health claims or dietary information
Expiration date

How to Understand Food Labels
Now that we know what food labels are, let's take a look at how to understand them.
Start with the Serving Size:
The serving size is the first piece of information you should look at on a food label. It tells you how much of the product constitutes a serving and how many servings are in the container. This is essential for understanding how many calories and other nutrients you're consuming.

Check the Calories:
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you'll get from a serving of the food. If you're trying to lose weight, it's essential to keep an eye on calorie intake. The calorie count can be found under the "Total Calories" or "Calories per Serving" heading on the food label.

Look at the Nutrients:
The nutrient content is also an important factor to consider when choosing a food product. Nutritional information such as fat, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates can be found on the food label. The percentage of daily values (DV) is also listed to help you understand how much of each nutrient you should aim for in your daily diet. Remember that the recommended daily values for these nutrients will vary based on your age, sex, weight, and activity level.

Check the % Daily Value:
The % Daily Value tells you the percentage of the recommended daily value of each nutrient per serving. A good rule of thumb is to look for foods that have 20% or more of the recommended daily value of a nutrient.

Pay Attention to the Ingredients:
Make sure to read the list of ingredients. The ingredient list is a comprehensive list of all the ingredients in the food product. The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, meaning the first ingredient is the most prominent in the product. Look for ingredients that you recognize and avoid products with ingredients that you don't understand or can't pronounce. Look out for added sugars, trans fats, and other unhealthy ingredients.

What to Look Out for
When interpreting food labels, it's important to be aware of certain ingredients or claims that could indicate that the product is unhealthy or contains harmful additives. Here are some things to look out for and avoid:
Added Sugars:
Look out for added sugars in the ingredient list. Sugars can hide under many names like high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, invert sugar and more. These can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. A good rule of thumb is to avoid foods that have more than 10 grams of added sugars per serving.

Trans Fats:
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated oils or any other source of trans fats. Look for foods that have zero grams of trans fats on the label.

High sodium levels can increase blood pressure and put you at risk for heart disease. Aim for foods that have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.

Artificial Ingredients:
Look out for artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. These can have negative effects on your health and well-being.

Beware of Health Claims:
Don't be fooled by health claims on the packaging. Just because a food is labeled "low-fat" or "natural" doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy. Health claims on food labels are often used to market products that are not actually healthy. Look for products with specific, credible health claims and avoid those with vague or unsubstantiated claims. Always read the nutritional information on the food label to make an informed decision.

Food labels are an essential tool for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. By understanding how to read food labels, you can make informed decisions about what you eat.

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