All packaged foods should have a food label on it. The food label serves as map of the food item, showing you the content of the item. Understanding food labels will help you make wiser food choices.
A food label should tell you:
• The name of the food;
• The name and address of the company that produced the item;
• All the ingredients contained in the item. The list starts with the ingredient the item contains the most of and ends with the ingredient it contains the least of;
• Allergy warnings if the item contains something that could cause someone to have an allergic reaction or get sick, for example, peanuts;
• The use-by date or expiry date; This tells you up to what date it is safe to eat the item;
• A nutrition facts panel that tells you the amount of nutrients in every serving.
It must be noted that the contents of food labels vary by regions of the world. Universally, the nutrition facts panel is usually divided into four main sections. Section one states the serving size. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the USA have decided on specific serving sizes for foods that we normally consume. The serving sizes should be the same for the same type of product. The total number of servings in the package is also stated. This would help you while shopping to compare the nutritional content of the same type of product made by different manufacturers.
The nutrient facts in sections two and three are based on one serving of the food item. Section two states the calories and calories from fats. Calories (which means kilocalories for short) lets you know the amount of energy that you will get in one serving of the food item.
Section three states nutrients and nutrient-related substances.
• Total Fat (sometimes broken down to reflect saturated and trans)
• Carbohydrates (including sugars & dietary fibre)
• Other minerals
Excessive amounts of the first five nutrients or nutrient-related substances are often linked to certain chronic nutrition-related diseases or conditions. For example, excess dietary fat can contribute to overweight or obesity and excess sodium consumption is linked to high blood pressure or hypertension. The adequate intake of the other minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre contribute to your good health. Section four, or the footnote, states some reference values. This footnote, found only on larger packages, provides recommended dietary information for important nutrients. The per cent Daily Values (DVs) are based on either a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet and would be the same on all labels. For a food to be high in a particular nutrient, it must provide at least 20 per cent DV while five per cent DV reflects a low level.
When reading labels always read the fine print. A drink is not a juice and cheese flavoured does not always mean that there is cheese in the product. Remember, the food label will not tell you what foods to eat, that is your decision. However, being able to read food labels properly will assist you in choosing packaged food items that continue to your health and well-being and limit your intake of those associated with ill health.
(Courtesy of The National School Dietary Services Limited and The Caribbean Food & Nutrition Institute in commemoration of National Nutrition Awareness Week)