Have you heard the phrase ‘You are what you eat’? This phrase implies that if you eat unhealthy food you will experience the side-effects of your choice in the form of health concerns and other related issues. Conversely, if you make well-informed food choices and only stick to buying nutritious and healthy products, you will be physically and mentally fit. With so many food choices available in the market, choosing the right products can seem like a daunting task. How can you find out what your favorite cereal or sandwich spread contains? The answer is simple: Read the nutrition label.
What is a Nutrition Label?
The packaging of each item features a small section that lists the ingredients and nutritional content of the product. It usually mentions the percentage or grams of vitamins, fats, calories, carbohydrates, sodium, saturated fat, and minerals present in the product. It also lists the ingredients used to make the food item.
Why Is Reading the Label Important?
Almost all pre-packaged food has gone through some form of refinement or processing. This means that before it was made available for purchase, it was treated and enriched with artificial ingredients such as sweeteners, preservatives and syrups. It may also have been subjected to processes that use chemicals such as bleaching. The artificial ingredients and chemicals are used to add flavor and substance because the natural nutrients have been lost during processing.
The packaging of the food may claim that the product is natural and good for you, but do the actual ingredients match the claim? Experts repeatedly emphasize that processed food should be avoided as much as possible, especially those items that list down a sizeable number of chemicals. This is exactly where the nutrition label will come in handy to help make your purchasing decision simpler.
Apart from the chemical content of the product, the nutrition label will also give you a fair idea of how much bad fat (saturated fat and trans-fat) the food product contains. Both these types of fats are a result of artificial processing activities. Research has established that bad fats increase the risk of several medical conditions including cardiovascular diseases. You will also get a fair idea of how many calories you will be consuming and how many nutrients the product has to offer.
Why Don’t Consumers Read the Label?
The American Dietetic Association conducted a study to uncover why many consumers don’t read the nutrition label. They found that the positioning and appearance of the nutrition label plays a major role in influencing the decision to read or not to read. A tiny nutrition table written in text that is difficult to read discourages many consumers from taking the time to read about the contents. The study also found that out of those who did read the label, 1/3rd only looked at the calorie count, 1/3rd looked at the fat content, 1/4th took stock of the sugar content, and 1/5th considered the amount of trans-fat in the product.
Several consumers also do not read the label because they think that it will be a time consuming activity. The truth is, while reading the labels may increase the time you spend in the store, it will put you on the path to better health in the long run.
To rectify this problem the Institute of Medicine has recommended a new system of labeling. According to the new system, information about calories, serving size, fat, sodium and sugar would be written on the front while vitamins, fiber, minerals and protein would be mentioned at the back of the product packaging.
What If The Product Doesn’t Have a Label?
Products that don’t feature nutrition labels should be avoided. The ingredients and nutritional content will remain a mystery, and the health risk is not worth it. Moreover, try to avoid products that feature incomplete or confusing labels. If food manufacturers cannot be honest about the ingredients used to make the product, then it is a legitimate cause of concern.
The Way Forward
Getting used to reading the label will take some time, but you will soon appreciate the powerful benefits of this activity. Your food choices will become healthier and in effect, so will you! As a well-informed consumer you should always read the label to confirm whatever the packaging claims to offer. If the product claims to be ‘Healthy’, ‘Low-fat’, ‘Enriched with Vitamins and Minerals, or ‘Zero Trans-Fat’, be sure to check the label to see whether the product really is what it claims to be. Your health should always come first, so make the right food choices and stay healthy!