Food labels can be confusing, especially for those who are not used to reading them. However, learning how to read food labels is essential for anyone who wants to make informed choices about what they eat. Understanding what to look for on a food label allows you to make healthier choices and avoid falling for marketing gimmicks. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll take you through the basics of reading food labels so that you can confidently navigate the grocery store and make healthier food choices.
What are Food Labels?
Food labels are the labels that are found on the packaging of all packaged foods. These labels are designed to provide important information about the food product, including its nutritional content, serving size, and ingredients.
Nutrition Facts and Serving Size
The Nutrition Facts panel provides information about the serving size, calories, and nutrient content of the food. The serving size is listed at the top of the panel and is an important piece of information to pay attention to, as all the other information on the panel is based on this serving size. It’s important to note that the serving size may differ from the portion size you typically eat, so make sure to adjust the nutrient information accordingly.
Calories and Macronutrients
The number of calories in a serving of the food is listed just below the serving size. This information is important for those who are watching their calorie intake. The macronutrients, which include fat, carbohydrates, and protein, are listed next. These are the three major nutrients that provide energy to the body. The amount of each nutrient is listed in grams and as a percentage of the daily value (DV). The daily value is a reference amount that’s based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so if you consume more or fewer calories than that, your daily values will be different.
Micronutrients and Ingredients
Below the macronutrients, you’ll find a list of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. These are important for maintaining good health, and the daily value percentage can help you determine if the food is a good source of that nutrient. Additionally, the ingredients list is included on the label and is listed in descending order by weight. This means that the first ingredient listed is the most prominent ingredient in the product. Paying attention to the order of ingredients can help you determine the food quality you’re eating.
Food Ingredient List and Allergens
The ingredient list is another important part of the food label. Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, with the most abundant ingredient listed first. This information can help you understand what the product is made of and how it might affect your health. If you have any allergies, be sure to check the ingredient list carefully for any potential allergens.
In addition to the allergens listed in the ingredient list, the food label may also include a separate section listing any allergens that are not part of the ingredient list but may have come into contact with the food during processing. This is particularly important for people with severe allergies.
Daily Values and Percent Daily Value
The daily values listed on food labels are based on the recommended daily intake of nutrients for an average adult. The percent daily value indicates how much of the recommended daily intake is in a single serving of the food. For example, if a food has 20% of the daily value for iron, it means that a single serving of the food provides 20% of the recommended daily intake of iron.
It’s important to note that the percent daily value is based on a 2000 calorie diet, which may not be appropriate for everyone. If you consume more or fewer calories, you’ll need to adjust the daily values accordingly.
Ingredient Label Claims and Food Label Design
Finally, paying attention to any ingredient label claims and the overall food label design is important. Claims such as “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” or “all-natural” can be misleading, so it’s important to read the label carefully to determine if the claim is valid. Additionally, the overall design of the label can be used to attract consumers.
In conclusion, reading food labels is essential for anyone who wants to make informed choices about what they eat. By understanding the basics of food labelling, including the serving size, calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, ingredients, allergens, daily values, and ingredient label claims, you can make healthier choices and avoid falling for marketing gimmicks. By reading food labels carefully, you’ll be on your way to a healthier and more informed lifestyle.