How to read a food label

Food labeling is governed by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). It  increases transparency, educates customer on the ingredients used and help customers make informed choices for the product.
As health awareness is increasing day by day so are Obesity and Lifestyle Disorders, people are making a conscious effort to eat healthy and improve their lifestyle. But they fail to read the food labels or else they are not aware how to read them.
So let’s learn to read a food label and make a better choice on next purchase.

  1. Serving Information:
    Serving size indicates quantity for 1 serving. It is mentioned normally in grams.
    Number of Servings indicate the number of servings present in the entire container.
    While comparing the number of serving always consider the serving size.
    Please note serving size does not indicate the portion size an individual should consume. Portion size would differ from person to person based on calorie requirements.
    The purpose of serving size is to know the total calorie, calories from carbs, fats, protein.
  2. Calories:
    Calorie indicates the amount of calorie you get in 1 SERVING of the product.
    Now if you eat more than 1 serving multiply number of servings with calories to arrive at the calories consumed (For eg: If Mr X consumes 2 servings. Then calorie consumed would be 198 Calories. (99*2).
    Also note kcal is same as Calories. Some companies would mention kcal instead of Calorie.
    Energy indicates the total amount of calories you can on consuming 1 serving.
    All other macro nutrients are mentioned in grams. 1 g of protein & carb gives 4 kcal and 1g of fat gives 9 kcal. To know the amount of calories consumed of individual macro nutrients you need to multiply with respective number of grams with calorie per macronutrients. Here Calories from Protein would be 12 g*4=48kcal. Calories from Carbs- 10 g*4=40kcal; Fat-1.3 g*9=11.7 kcal.
  3. Nutrients:
    It indicates the key nutrients which impact your health and as a consumer they are essential to know.
    On the left macro nutrients are mentioned in grams.

    It is the building block of the body. It is of prime importance to the body. As per the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) given by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for Indians, 0.8 to 1 gm protein per kg body weight per day is sufficient to meet the basic nutritional requirements.
    For active individuals, and individuals with different goals the protein requirement will differ.

    They provide energy to the cells all over the body. There are 2 types of carbohydrate simple and complex carbs.
    Always aim for complex carbs over simple carbs. Sugar is a simple carb so should be avoided.
    Most of the times manufacturers add sugar, High fructose corn syrup, Maple Syrup. They are as bad as sugar. Be aware of it and avoid such products.
    Some different names of sugar include-
    Fructose, Dextrose, Glucose Syrup, Maple syrup, Sucrose, Coconut Sugar, cane sugar, Palm Sugar, Molasses, Maltose, Castor Sugar, Malt Syrup.
    There is difference in Total Sugar and added sugar. Total Sugar includes natural sugar like natural sweetness of milk whereas added sugar is the additional sugar added in the product.

    It is an energy dense macro nutrient. They have many vital functions in the body like hormone production, cell integrity, energy etc.
    Generally in a food label fats is further divided into Saturated, Unsaturated (PUFA,MUFA), Trans fat, Cholesterol.
    PUFA, Transfat should be avoided as they have adverse health effect.
    Saturated fat should be had in moderation.
    Cholesterol should not be totally avoided as it does help with hormone production, synthesizing Vit D3,, aids in bile production etc.

    Micronutrients are basically vitamins and minerals. They are required in smaller quantities normally in gms, mcg. They are equally important as macro nutrients.
    Vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A, D, B12, C, Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Selenium are required by the body and check the label for these ones.
    Always check on the sodium content of food. Most of the processed foods are loaded with sodium. The RDA by American heart association is 1.5 g per day. Therefore, avoid products with high sodium content.
  4. % RDA VALUE :
    The % RDA- Recommended Daily Allowances tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily requirement established by RDA.
    The daily recommended value is as per ICMR guidelines, 2010 based different on activity levels.
    Daily requirements of nutrients can differ from individual to individual based on activity levels.
  5. Ingredients:
    Ingredients are mentioned in order of most to least in weight.
    So the most used ingredient is mentioned 1st  in the list followed by others.
    Certain ingredients are mentioned based on the International Numbering system for food additives.
    Some of the commonly used ingredients are Sucralose- (INS 955)- Stevia- (INS 960) etc.
    Always check the ingredients to decide whether to buy the product. Do not get deceived by the front panel claims.
    Check the Ingredients for any food intolerants or allergies like wheat, lactose.

To Conclude-
Above mentioned information will help you make a right and better choice in selecting products. So now when you go shopping do not be misleaded by false label claims.  Read the Label before your buy.

Nt Shruti Sethna
Certified Sports Nutritionist

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