Processed foods are consumed by nearly everyone in developed countries, but how many of those people actually stop to take a look at the composition and nutritional value of what they’re eating? Among those who take the time to look, how much of the labeling content do they actually understand? This article will provide some tips to teach you how to read product labels so that you can monitor what you eat as well as what you’re putting into your body.
1. LIST OF INGREDIENTS
Before you look at nutrition facts, set some time aside to read the list of ingredients.
First, start by looking at the length of this list. The shorter the list, the better the product. A quality product has natural ingredients and fewer additives. Next, take a look at the order of the ingredients. Most ingredients lists are ordered based on quantity. Thus, the first ingredient of the list tends to be the most abundant while the final ingredient makes up the smallest percentage of the entire item’s composition. Finally, pay attention to the nature, composition and quality of the ingredients. Nowadays most products contain ingredients which have been found to be harmful to human health such as glucose syrup or hydrogenated vegetable oils, both of which lack natural composition and therefore possess diminished quality. It’s important to pay attention to details of the ingredients like these because they tend to be very prevalent in processed foods
2. NUTRITION LABELING
After reading the list, now it’s time to analyze the nutritional information.
Nutrition labeling is mandatory on all pre-packaged foods in order to inform consumers of the caloric content as well as macro and micro nutrients found in the product. Food labels quantify these variables under serving sizes or by 100g or 100ml. (i.e. 1 Serving or 100ml of Pulco Citronnade (A French lemonade brand) contains the following: 5.4g carbohydrates, 5.1g sugar, 0g protein, 19mg vitamin C, and so on.)
The key factors to hold under consideration when purchasing food items include: proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and minerals.
Protein: Many dietitians would recommend animal proteins rather than vegetable proteins simply because they provide all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. However, if one does not consume animal products, there are alternatives. For example, you could satisfy your DRI for essential amino acids by consuming a combination of different cereals and legumes at some point in the day. (Quick note: If a food contains more than 10g of protein per 100g, it is an excellent source of amino acids which are the building blocks of protein.)
Lipids: With regards to lipids, it’s important to aim for foods with very limited saturated fats. The ideal items should contain unsaturated fat which is found in olive and vegetable oils.
Carbohydrates: The quality of carbohydrates will focus on their nature: You should learn to differentiate between simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates should consumed with discretion. It’s recommended to limit their intake while focusing on foods high in complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are labeled as “sugars” on nutrition labels.
Minerals: When it comes to minerals, you should pay attention to level of sodium. Too much sodium can cause issues with your cardiovascular system and overall health.
3. QUALITY LABELS
Finally, most packaging will indicate different certifications. For example: superior quality, Controlled Designation of Origin, Protected Designation of Origin, Red Label, Organic Farming and so on.
By Alex Zhang, student in nutrition and Amelie Vincent, dietitian.