All supermarket aisles are bursting with “low fat”, “sugar free” or “high in fiber” food products these days. Are these products as healthy as they claim to be? Or are the manufacturers feeding you misleading information?  We decode the nutrition label code and tell you what to look for.

The Serving Size

Serving sizes are usually standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods. They are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount (gm). The size of the serving influences the calorie content and nutrient amounts. Be sure to check how many servings a food package has. Food companies tend to put nutritional information for a 100g serve of a product on packages that may serve between 200-500g.

Calories

The calorie intake determines how much energy you get from a serving. Most of us consume more calories than we need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients. Take into account how many calories in the serving are from fat. Remember that eating too many calories in a day can lead to obesity and weight gain. So read the calorie section carefully to manage weight- be it lose, maintain or gain. Calculate calories based on the number of servings consumed. Rule of thumb: 40 calories is low, 100 moderate while 400 and more is high.

The Nutrients 

Scan the label thoroughly for listed nutrients. Keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible. The foods you pick should have labels with more Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron, with percentage daily values and quantity of dietary fiber.

Percentage of Daily Requirements

Apart from nutrients, read up on the percentage value based on daily requirements for that nutrient.  This will help you figure out if a product is high or low in a certain nutrient.  So if an instant soup contains 90% of the daily requirement for sodium, it is high in salt and probably not a healthy choice.

Ingredients All food products contain a list of ingredients, beginning with the one that is most abundant in the product and continuing to the one that has the lowest content. This helps you avoid picking products with ingredients that you don’t want, be it gluten, corn syrup or fructose.

Read food labels carefully to choose healthier food products that are lower in fat and calories for weight loss.

Look for:

  • Items with less than 10g of fat per 100g, ideally with less than 3g of this from saturated fat and minimal to no trans fats.
  • Products with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.
  • Products with less than 10g of sugar per 100g serving.
  • Breakfast cereals and breads with more than 3g of fiber per serve.
  • Dairy products (excluding cheese) should have less than 3g total fat per 100g and less than 1.5g saturated fat per 100g.

 

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Written by Sumita Thomas

Sumita Thomas

For Sumita Thomas, good nutrition advice is less about what NOT to eat and all about HOW to eat. Armed with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and dietetics from IGNOU, Sumita has worked with multi-specialty clinics and corporate clients, planning calorie-specific menus for their cafeterias. She’s also a certified diabetes educator, has worked in cardiac nutrition and is even a TUV-certified internal auditor for food safety management systems. Maybe that’s why she ensures her advice is always scientifically sound, which makes her a perfect fit for us at HealthifyMe. Of the belief that a healthy lifestyle can be achieved with the combination of a healthy mind, body and diet, Sumita recommends setting realistic goals – one health target a day – and gradually incorporating healthy ingredients to your daily diet. Does she practice what she preaches? For sure, and ensures all those around her do too. So get set, because that now includes you!

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