Why is it important to know your food labels?
If you are anywhere between 20 and 50, healthy or ‘fitness food’ is what must be ruling your mind for the most part of the day. Watching what you eat, tracking every new diet, examining workout regimes that could be more efficient, are some of the most common search results today.
But are your fitness regimes actually working? Have you really been watching your diet thoroughly? Or have you also been fooled by the claims of ‘Fat-free, sugar-free, carb-free’ food items?
While you have been ardently following some brands and their tall claims of being the ‘healthiest’ option around you, it’s time for you to turn into a smarter customer. Here are five ways to not get fooled by front label promises.
The real meaning of Nutritional Serving
Calorie counts on food labels are based on one serving and not the entire package, so guess that Digestive Biscuit you just had wasn’t that healthy after all! It is common for manufacturers to label in this way. One package of food will always contain more than one serving, so the information listed on the Nutrition Facts label is also based on one serving. This means that if a package contains two servings and you eat the entire package, you have consumed twice the amount of calories and nutrients listed on the label. Knowing how to read The Nutrition Facts label can actually help you make better choices for your overall health.
Aspects of food nutritional breakdown
While it is important to follow your diet, the nutritional breakdown of each packaged product you consume matters equally. And you can only do that better when you know the ingredients, what they do to you and how much of it is okay to be taken inside the temple that is your body. We generally tend to overlook ingredients like trans-fat, saturated fats, which are in abundance in almost all packaged food items. Also, a key point to keep in mind is – the food labels put ingredients in decreasing order, meaning the highest concentration to lowest. So, remember to find the ‘good’ ones in the beginning.
The 'bad for you’ ingredients
Coming to the ‘bad’ cops that might be gradually and noiselessly spoiling your heart, body and overall health, there are some common culprits. Take for instance Trans Fats like meats, which are a vital need of the human body. But when it transcends to artificial ones, the alarm must ring. These unsaturated fats can raise bad cholesterol and add to the risk of Type 2 Diabetes at a major rate. The other least known (you’d probably pass it as a chemical compound meant for the scientists’ lab) but equally harmful ingredient present in food items is Sodium Nitrate. It is mostly found in cured or processed meats to evade bacterial growth and is a big contributor to causing Cancer and Leukemia.
And who can forget MSG? Monosodium Glutamate is what makes you crave for those instant noodles and chips, the ‘flavor’ you so drool over! While MSG surely boosts the flavors in processed and canned foods, it also boosts your weight gain and chances of high BP. Even your favourite power drinks and colas try to lure you with claims of 100% Vitamin C in their labels. However, in reality, they have synthetic Vitamin C that can cause kidney stones, gout, arthritis and ulcers. And the color that you see in those drinks comes from an ingredient called Tartrazine, which, in the long run, can cause asthma, migraines, hyperactivity and skin rashes.
The reality behind ‘good’ stuff
Most packaged foods also carry big health claims that immediately catch your attention and make you believe that it is healthy. For instance, Light Butter. It might seem like it contains fewer calories, but Light products could actually only be a watered-down version of the original. Check carefully to see if anything has been added instead — like sugar. Similarly, Multigrain sounds very healthy, but it only means that a product contains more than one type of grain, which could also be refined grains.
Even ‘Natural’ products usually mean nothing else other than the fact that at one point in the production process, the manufacturer worked with a natural source like bananas or rice or a particular veggie.
All about added flavors and preservatives
Natural flavours, Nature-identical flavours or Artificial flavours
Adding flavors increases the taste and appeal of the food. Broadly there are three types of flavoring extracts:
1. Natural flavors are extracted from vegetables by physical processes such as heating or roasting
2. Nature-identical flavours are chemically isolated and extracted synthetically. These are identical to substances present in natural products meant for human consumption
3. Artificial flavours are, as the name suggests, chemically different and not present in natural products
It is considered a healthier choice to choose foods that contain natural flavors or Nature-identical flavours. For example, while many processed foods have a name that refers to a natural flavor, such as strawberry yoghurt. However, the product may not contain any fruit — only chemicals designed to taste like fruit. This is done because they help food taste fresh even when it is not, create an appealing smell to entice the consumer and create a more concentrated, short-lived flavor that will leave them wanting more.
No sugar or no added sugar
Always be wary of the ‘No added sugar’ claim. Some products are naturally high in sugar, so even if it claims that it doesn’t have added sugar won’t mean they're healthy; they could contain unhealthy sugar substitutes.
When it comes to additives and preservatives, there are many reasons why they are used. One is that they can help maintain product freshness by slowing spoilage caused by mould, air, or bacteria. Sometimes they are also used to improve texture and appearance. However, marketing tactics usually disguise the harm behind these ingredients. For instance, Potassium Bromate is a common food additive that is used to strengthen bread, however, it is also a common Carcinogen. Similarly, Sodium Benzoate is another common food preservative used in many processed food products but is known to cause hyperactivity and restlessness among children.
Food labels are one of the most vital ways to keep a check on your diet and stay informed. Make it a habit to always cross check nutrients and ingredients at the back of the pack. If you look out for simple things like the amount of Oats in Oats Noodles and whether the quantity is sufficient, it can bring enormous change to one’s health scale. Healthy food isn’t as much about the weight you lose but more about the health you gain, so make the most of your crucial 70% diet and remember to turn the leaf while buying your favorite foods next time.