Food Labels: Are you reading them right?

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Food Labels: Are you reading them right?

food label

How many times have the fancy labels on food boxes and drink cans influenced you into picking up these products from the shopping shelf?

The story is same everywhere, with consumers being impressed (rather, overwhelmed) by an array of terms and numbers mentioned in the nutritional labels list of packaged foods.

But these labels have more to say that they superficially appear to do, and conscious consumers need to read between the lines to understand them.

Moreover, a large part of the information is irrelevant and confusing, making it important to filter the facts that actually are useful for the consumer.

Let us know all about food labels and how to read them right:

Calories-They matter the most!

Smart eaters are the ones who choose a product that fits into their daily calorie need and the calorie per serving gives a count of the all-important figure.

Of course, what really matters is where you get these calories from because those coming from a nutritionally dense snack bar are far better than an equal number given by a sugar laden candy bar.

The rule of thumb here is to read the calorie count, and more importantly calories derived from fats.

Moreover, what really makes a difference is whether you are eating to gain, lose or maintain weight because your calorie requirements would be determined by the same.

Sugar- Natural or Added

Sugar is another key ingredient to consider when it comes to reading the food labels, though it is the differentiation between natural and added sugars which really matters.

Natural sugars which are part and parcel of whole foods such as fruits, milk or yogurt, are regarded good for health (unless these are really high, as in some fruit juices).

On the other hand, added sugars like those derived from nectar, cane juice, maple syrup and corn syrup, add to the taste but can cause health risks like diabetes and obesity. 

The idea is to look for packaged foods which are as low on added sugar as possible.

Fats- Good or Bad

Just like you can segregate sugar on the food labels into natural (healthy) and added (unhealthy), fats can be categorized as good and bad too.

While reading the nutritional facts about a packaged product, focus on the ones low on bad fats rather than total fat.

To be specific, trans fats and saturated fats are bad fats. These unhealthy variants are responsible for increasing the LDL (bad) cholesterol and also have a baneful impact on HDL (good) cholesterol.


Another significant ingredient on the nutritional label list is sodium, which may seem harmless but plagues the system like a silent killer, elevating the risk of hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease.

The safe salt (sodium) intake for an adult human being is less than 2300 mg a day (nearly 1 teaspoon) but unfortunately a few packaged foods harbor a hefty amount of sodium.

Therefore, it becomes essential to go through the sodium content on the food labels to ensure that you stay between the recommended daily limit by managing the servings.

Fiber- The Healthiest Ingredient

While it is important to look for foods which are minimal in unhealthy ingredients like sugar, salt and fats, knowing all about the healthier ones is equally vital.

Aim to get an optimal amount of healthy fiber on the food labels as it improves digestion as well as staves off sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.

The recommended daily goal sits somewhere around 25 to 30 g a day, while a minimum of 3 g from each serving is considered as ideal for packaged foods.

Protein-The Essential Nutrient

Going ahead with the “good ingredients” on food labels, proteins are to be watched out by health-conscious foodies.

Snacks which show 5-10 grams of protein are considered good enough on the healthy-eating scale. Those with kidney problems should, however follow doctor’s advice to know how much would be the fair intake of protein for them.

Carbohydrates-The Energy Booster

When you read carbohydrates on food label, translate them as energy boosters because they are primarily responsible for replenishing the energy needs of the body.

The rule of thumb is that the recommended value of carbs for a person should be about half of the total calorie intake, but it can vary from person to person, depending upon factors like age, activity levels and general health condition.

Healthy carbs which come from whole foods like whole grain bread, brown rice and oats are much better than refined carbs, which lie hidden in processed foods lie white flours, rice and cereals.

Make sure that the impressive names and figures on the food labels do not fool you into believing that a particular food is great for your health. Here are some more tips to help:

  • Be aware of the concept of serving size, which comes into play for calculating number of servings in a pack. Accordingly, the nutritional profile of the food can be chalked out too.

  • Also, you should know all about the daily value of nutrients that you need so that you can compare the same with what you see on the food labels.

It is equally vital to be knowledgeable about the ingredients that are to be included in your daily diet, the ones which should be consumed in moderation and also the ones to be ditched completely.

  • Steer clear of additives such as artificial preservatives, artificial food dyes and artificial sweeteners, as these have been scientifically proved to be hazardous for human health.

If the nutritional jargon on the food labels confuses you to the wit’s end, you are not alone.

But a little awareness can take you a long way forward when it comes to informed label reading.

At the same time, you can definitely do yourself favor by eating more of fresh and natural food items such as cereals, fruits and vegetables.

Medical Disclaimer: The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. Patients and consumers should review the information carefully with their professional health care provider. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. You should consult your physician before beginning a new diet, nutritional or fitness program.