Understanding Food Labels

By Kyla Miller, R.H.N.;

Understanding food labels is very important in this day and age. The more we practice reading food labels before purchasing a food product, the more habitual it becomes. Reading food labels helps us make informed choices about what we buy for ourselves and our families.

What is a Food Label?

Food labels provide us with information about the nutritional content inside a package of food. There are all sorts of health claims over various food products. Once we understand how to read labels, we will be in a better position to choose healthier options.

Food labels are broken up into sections to make it easy for us to read and understand the nutrition found in a particular food item. Always start with how many servings are in the package and what equals a serving.

Fruits and vegetables generally do not have food labels with nutritional facts or ingredient list. This is because they are in their natural form with no preservatives or other ingredients added. They are not considered processed food. It is always healthier to buy foods that are fresh, whole and organic, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Why Should We Read Food Labels?

Reading food labels makes it much easier for us to compare foods and find the foods that have the most nutritional value. They can help us limit or eliminate the amount of saturated fat, sodium, processed sugar, and bad cholesterol in our diet; as well as help us increase our consumption of vitamins, fiber and protein.

Nutrition Facts on a Food Label

The Nutrition Facts label must provide information on the following:

Standard serving size
Number of servings per container
Number of calories per serving
Number of calories derived from
Total fat per serving
Total amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fibers, sugars and protein
Total amount of certain vitamins and minerals (vitamins A and C, iron and calcium)
Percentage of the daily value for a person requiring 2000 calories per day

Don’t Be Fooled

One of the most common mistakes made when reading food labels, is to realize that the nutritional information is based on one serving. For example, a food label may indicate that a food has 100 calories and 5 grams of sugar, but if we look closely, that figure is only representative of one serving. This means that if we were to eat the entire package, we would be eating several servings. Depending on the size of the package, our intake of calories and sugar could significantly increase.

Food labels help us determine what is inside the package in the list of ingredients and can be very useful. Be careful though, if you choose to consume processed foods, there are many misleading names for food additives and processing aids. For example, did you know that on a food label, the all too common MSG can be hidden in names such as monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, glutamate, glutamic acid, vegetable protein extract, gelatin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), autolyzed plant protein, sodium caseinate, senomyx (wheat extract labelled as artificial flavour), calcium caseinate, textured protein, yeast extract, yeast food or nutrient, autolyzed yeast… and there are others! This is just one example – there are many more!

Listed below are some common label claims and their definitions on a per serving basis. As we can see, some of these claims can be misleading.

Calorie Free = Less than 5 calories
Low Calorie = 40 calories or less
Light or Lite = 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat than original version
Cholesterol Free = Less than 2mg. cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Low Cholestrol = 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Sodium Free = Less than 5 mg sodium
Very Low Sodium = 35 mg or less of sodium
Low Sodium = 140 milligrams or less of sodium
Light Sodium = 50% less sodium
Low Fat = 3 gram or less of fat
High Fiber = 5 grams or more of fiber

Food Labels on Fruits and Vegetables

Even fruits and vegetables have labels on them. They are the little stickers on each individual produce and they can be very useful in determining how they’ve been grown. On each of the stickers you will notice a number. This numeric system is not only for the merchant to identify what type of produce it is, but we can also use this number to our advantage. For example, a conventionally grown product would start with the number 3 or 4 followed by a series of three numbers (i.e. 3107 or 4017). An organically grown product would begin with a 9 followed by a series of four numbers (i.e. 94011). Finally, a genetically modified product (GMO/GE) would start with an 8 followed by a series of 4 numbers (i.e. 84011). For more information on how to avoid GMO’s when shopping, please follow the non-GMO shopping guide. Companies have picked up on the fact that consumers have been able to crack the “code”, so we can’t always use these figures as final; all we can do is use them as a reference guide to help us make informed choices.

Certified Organic

The word organic has exploded in the marketplace. Demand for organic products has increased, and with that, companies have started to misuse this claim. When shopping in supermarkets we want to look for certified organic labels. Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping. Where laws exist, producers cannot use the term organic legally without certification. To bypass this legal requirement for certification, various alternative terms are used such as authentic or natural. Furthermore, if a product states “made with organic ingredients”, it is only required by law to have a minimum of 70% organic ingredients within it, a product labelled “organic” only requires 95% of its ingredients to be organic,
and if we’re looking for a product that is 100% organic, it must state “100 percent organic” on the label.

Certifying products as organic is not free. We must use our intuition when buying from local farmers. Some smaller operations simply can not afford to pay for an organic certification. In many communities, the principle of trust applies, so let’s get to know our local farmers!

Enjoy the Process

Let’s take our time when we go shopping and carefully read the labels! This is a healthy habit that can put us in control of our nutritional intake.
We need to carefully read the label and stay away from processed foods, especially those that contain ingredients we can’t even pronounce, much less know what they mean. We should strive to stick to buying foods in their natural, whole, unmodified state.

Most importantly, we need to stay aware and take responsibility for our health and those who depend on us.

Check out this inspirational video

Your question: Do you read food labels before making a purchase? (post your comments below)


About the Author : Kyla Miller is the co-founder of guidinginstincts.com. She has overcome illness through dietary/lifestyle changes, and practicing a positive mindset daily. Kyla is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and is currently studying to become a Reiki Master.

1 comment:

  1. Labels are provided so you can get an overview on the food's ingredients.


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