Benefits of reading food labels

4 April 2019 Feature


Food labels are often overlooked when we go grocery shopping. Reading food labels isn’t just for people with dietary concerns. There are plenty of benefits in developing this habit.

In an age where people are becoming more observant about how their food is produced, food labels empower us to make informed decisions about what we consume.

We should be aware of what constitutes good nutrition and try to include this in every meal, even quick and easy ones.

Know what to look for when reading food labels.

The key to deciphering food labels is the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP), which is found on the label of packaged foods. It lists the amount of energy, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals in a product.

Knowing these amounts in per 100g (solid) or per 100ml (liquid) enables you to compare similar food products of different brands.

A health-conscious consumer would use “per serving” as a guide to planning a balanced diet that meets nutritional needs.

There are certain ways ingredients are listed on food labels, and this is not arbitrarily done.

Most people are not aware that ingredients are listed from the highest to the lowest amount of content of the said product.

For example, when a product’s ingredients are listed as “milk solids, calcium, vitamin A”, it means that milk solids are the ingredient with the highest content, followed by calcium and vitamin A.

Consumers should note that some ingredients come in different forms of food labels.

For example, sugar is sometimes labeled brown sugar, sucrose, glucose, and corn syrup solids.

Reading the ingredients on food labels allows you to spot potential allergens.

Many people have food allergies, such as to nuts, wheat, eggs, and soy.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether a product contains something to which you are allergic.

This is where food labels are meant to help you.

Being a savvy and health-conscious consumer means that you know what nutrition-related phrases on product packaging mean.

Phrases — such as “low fat”, “source of fiber” and “low calorie” — have standard definitions that are quantified.

Packaged food products must meet these standards, and these claims are regulated closely.

There are two types of nutrition claims normally used on food product packaging: the first is nutrient content claim, and the second is nutrient function claim.

The first describes the level of a nutrient in a food product, such as low calorie and low fat.

The second one describes the physiological role of nutrients in growth, development and normal functions of the body.

For example, Inulin helps increase intestinal bifidobacteria and helps maintain a good intestinal environment.

However, claims linking the consumption of food to the reduced risk of developing disease are not permitted.

These include claims such as “calcium may help reduce risk of osteoporosis”.

Many products carry a logo that identifies them as healthier options in the same product category.

Products that carry the Healthier Choice Logo have met nutrient criteria that the Health Ministry has outlined.

Many packaged food products carry, on the front part of their packaging, an icon that is called Front-of-Pack labeling for energy.

This label for energy is an indicator of how many calories (expressed in kcal) the product contains in a serving.

Calories are stated in the form of “energy”.

It also provides the percentage of energy it contributes to the recommended average daily energy requirement (2,000 kcal) of an adult.

Thus, it enables consumers to check and plan their daily energy intake. This can help consumers plan a balanced diet easily.