Chemical additives, salt/ sugar content, preservatives, flavouring & colouring agents, serving size and nutritional value are all mentioned on food labels – but all we look for is CALORIES or fat per serving! Here is a list of things that you must look for before buying any packaged food – be it a health snack or a diet cola.
- Look for Food Additives
Most low calories foods, health snacks and diet colas have high amounts of sugar substitutes, additives, flavouring agents, emulsifiers and other additives added to retain their addictive flavour, prolong shelf life and make it more palatable. Researches world over show that these additives are the leading causes of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, hormonal imbalance, obesity, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Prolonged consumption of these substances is shown to;
- Alter the taste palate and in turn cause sugar cravings and resistance to naturally spiced foods. This is one of the most important factor that causes fussy eaters, children who are unwilling to try new foods and people who feel ‘low’ when not consumed something sweet.
- Disturbs the osmotic balance in the body causing bloating, water retention, dehydration and weight gain.
- Affects the absorption of vitamins and minerals leading to hair loss, weak bones, fragile teeth and early ageing.
- Adversely affects the memory, hand-leg coordination and has a huge impact on the mood – making the consumer irritable, short tempered or depressed.
Read more about food additives..
- Enriched or Fortified?
This is one of the most misleading labels that food & beverage brands use to market their products. “Enriched” nutrients denote the addition those nutrients that were lost during processing of the ingredient. Eg. Vitamin C from oranges is lost during the manufacturing of juices; hence the juices are “Enriched” with Vitamin C. In other words, the food product that you buy is stripped off its natural nutrition and is served to you “enriched” with synthetic nutrition.
“Fortification” on the other hand is a term used to denote those nutrients added that are not naturally found in the food product. Eg. orange juice does not naturally contain Vitamin D. Hence, the addition of synthetic Vitamin D to orange juice is termed “Fortified”.
Be it “Fortified” or “Enriched”, one must always remember that the body easily absorbs and accepts nutrition is its natural form much more than artificial nutrients.
- Hidden salt and sugar
Sodium content of any food determines the level of additives/ flavour enhancers added to the food. Excessive sodium content affects the osmotic pressure of the blood causing raised blood pressure levels, water retention, weight gain, heart diseases and brain damage. Baked snacks, chips are loaded with
Sugar in its natural form is beneficial to the body, however, the sugar added to packaged food comes from ingredients like High fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or invert sugar that pose a damage to the body. Higher the sugar content, greater is the risk of auto immune diseases, cancers, diabetes, asthma, allergies and weight gain. Diet colas, sugar free gums, low calorie desserts are loaded with artificial sweeteners.
Read more about sweeteners here..
- Source of Grain
The label should read “whole” as the 1st or 2nd word of the ingredient especially for breakfast cereals, crackers, pasta, and breads. It can be whole wheat, oats, rye, or another grain. Just writing “wheat flour” indicates that the food contains refined flour and not whole wheat flour.
One way to double-check is to look at the fiber content on the nutrition facts panel. Whole-grain foods should deliver at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and ideally even more. Whole grains are a source of natural fibre that keep the gut healthy. More the whole grains used, healthier is the product.
Are whole grains really healthy? Know more..
5. Trans fat
Trans fat may directly be present in the food, or is a by-product of the source of fat that is used in the product. Manufacturers usually use partially hydrogenated oils (primary source of trans fats), which have been shown to be potentially more harmful to arteries than saturated fat. Foods can call themselves “trans-fat free” even if they contain up to half a gram of trans fats per serving. Look on the ingredients list. If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fats.
Consuming trans fat is shown to cause arterial blockages, cardiac arrests, stroke and loss of nervous control. Repeated consumption of trans fat leads to deficiencies of Vitamins A,D,E,K along with minerals like copper, selenium & manganese.
Note: ‘Baked’ snacks are mostly loaded with saturated fats to make them crispier! They are unhealthier than their fried counterparts. Know more..
- Food Allergies
Food allergies are a common phenomenon in today’s urban lifestyle. Common food allergies and intolerances include those from consuming milk, nuts, egg, wheat, gluten, soy and beans amongst others. Look out for label markers that indicate the presence to one or more allergy-inducing food ingredients.
- Serving Size
One of the biggest blunders made while eating a packaged food item is to ignore the “Serving size” recommended on the packet. Eating as per the serving size guidelines ensure that you consume fewer calories, have your sodium & sugar intake in check and most importantly do not end up piling on those extra pounds.
- Nutritional Value
And you guessed it right, “Calories” is at the bottom of the list. Once you have ensure that the above criteria are met and you are about to buy your packaged food – take one last look at the “Nutritional Value” table.
Important factors to check while reading the nutritive value table;
- Percentage calories from fat. Many ‘low calorie’ or ‘diet’ snacks have a major proportion of their calorific value coming from fat – making the so called ‘diet snack’ much unhealthier.
- Sugars. Carbohydrates are of 2 types – simple & complex. More the complex carbohydrate, healthier the food. Always check for the sugar content in the nutritive value table.
- Fibre. A health food product is labelled ‘high fibre’ only if it provides more than 4gms of fibre per serving. You may want to cross check on the ingredients list after noting this point.
- Calories per serving and not per 100 gms.
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