When you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight, reading food labels properly is an essential skill. Reading a food label not only tells you how many calories you are consuming when you are eating a particular food, but it can also provide you with useful information about the food’s nutritional value. The food label is essentially a cheat-sheet for healthy eating. You do not need to recall the calorie counts of your favorite foods, or to remember how much protein, fat or carbohydrates are in every side item and snack you come across. Nutrition labels make all of this information accessible to you all the time. Once you know how to read a food label, and what information you are looking for on it, you can start making healthier food choices.
Follow the steps below to understand and utilize properly the information provided by food labels. This blog can be extremely useful for people aiming to reach a healthy weight status or losing weight by simply reading food labels.
Healthy labelled products
Many food products are promoted as healthy choices and are often advertised as ‘low fat’, ‘sugar free’ or ‘high in fibre’ to quote just a few. Unfortunately, just because a product makes one food claim, doesn’t mean it is the best or the healthiest choice. A product labelled as ‘low fat’ for example may still contain a huge amount of calories from sugar. Similarly a product that is claimed to be ‘cholesterol free’ may still be high in fat. Fortunately, food manufacturers will provide with a nutrition information label on all their products, a development that has made it easier for shoppers to make informed choices about what they are really eating, and to choose the healthiest options for general well-being as well as weight loss.
At the top of the food label, you will usually find the food’s serving size, as well as the number of servings contained in each package. Use this information to calculate the approximate number of servings you are consuming at one time. For example if a packet of biscuits contains 10 serves, and you eat half the packet, you will need to multiply the nutritional information by five to find the total amount you have consumed (read more below).
When dieting it may be useful to measure out portions with a scale or cup, at least the first time, so that you know exactly what you are eating and what a serve size looks like in your bowl. This is particularly important for foods such as breakfast cereals, when serve sizes can be a lot smaller than what the average person is used to consuming. When comparing the nutrition values of two foods, it is essential to make sure the serve sizes are the same so that you are comparing like with like. Some foods may also have nutrition content per 100g column which makes it easier.
Calories and calories from fat
Besides the serving size, you will find the number of total calories and calories from fat in each serving. This lists the energy or calorie content of a serve of the product, and how much of this is derived from fat. In this way we can tell if a product is high or low in fat. It is important to remember that not all fats are created equal however, and a high fat product may in fact have a large amount of beneficial unsaturated fats. To determine the type of fat in a product we must check the nutrient values further down on the label. If an item has a low amount of calories from fat, but appears to have a high number of calories, check the sugar content. Multiply each of these values by the number of servings you will consume to determine your intake of calories and calories from fat. For example, if a product has 100 total calories and 50 calories from fat per serving, 2 servings will contain 200 total calories and 100 calories from fat.
Other useful nutritional information
Your daily intake of fat, cholesterol, and sodium should be also limited. Calculate how much of each of these nutrients you will be consuming based on the information provided by the label. The label lists the total amount of each nutrient per serving. Furthermore, you should consume a sufficient amount of fibers, vitamins, calcium and iron each day. Other useful and essential information for weight loss and reaching the ideal weight, such as Macronutrients, can also be found. Calculate how much of each of all these nutrients your food contains based on the label’s information. As with fat, cholesterol, and sodium, total amounts are listed for each nutrient.
Percentage of daily requirements
In addition to a weight for each nutrient in the product, labels also provide a percentage value based on daily requirements for that nutrient. This can help you work out if a product is high or low in a certain nutrient. For example if an instant soup contains 90% of the daily requirement for sodium, it can be concluded that the product is high in salt and probably not a healthy choice. Or if the label reads “Total Fat 9g; 9%,” one serving of the food in question contains 9 grams of fat, which is 9 percent of your daily recommended fat intake.
Keep in mind that all percentages listed on a food label are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your age, weight, height, physical activity, and other characteristics, your recommended calorie intake may be lower or higher.
All products contain a list of ingredients, starting with the one that is most abundant in the product and continuing to the ingredient which is in the smallest quantity. This is most useful if you are trying to avoid a certain ingredient such as gluten or corn syrup.
Do not forget that drinks also have calories (some might be extremely rich in calories and sugars). You should read the nutritional information present in drinks as well ;-)
The 5/20 principle
The 5/20 principle can help grocery shoppers understand which nutrients an item has a lot and which ones have little. If a nutrient is labeled as meeting 20% or more of your daily value, that generally means is a lot. If a nutrient has a daily value of 5% or less, that generally means is a little. This 5/20 principle can be applied to any nutrient goals you pursue, either if it is weight loss, weight gain or maintenance. If for example you are looking to boost your protein intake minimizing sugar intake, eating meals that provide over 20% of your daily value of protein and less than 5% of your daily value of sugar will help you to reach this goal.
"Properly reading and interpreting food labels is key for a successful weight loss and maintaining an ideal healthy weight"
1st edition: Aug 2015