HOW TO READ A NUTRITIONAL LABEL

In order to hamper the proliferation of diet-related diseases and ensuring the safety of food, government and food industries are progressively promoting nutrition labelling to create awareness amongst consumers for making a healthy, mindful and informed food choice.

Trade liberalisation, globalisation and advancement in food science and technology has resulted in an expansion of business and consumption of pre-packaged foods. People in urban areas are more dependent on pre-packaged foods due to their hectic schedule. According to FSSAI, “Pre-packaged” or “Pre-packed food”, means food, which is placed in a package of any nature, in such a manner that the contents cannot be changed without tampering it and which is ready for sale to the consumer (FSSAI, 2011). In India the production, sale and consumption of pre-packaged foods has drastically increased over the recent past. That’s why food labelling is being considered as the critical approach that assists consumers to make healthy and mindful food choices by the provision of nutritional information on the packaging material. Thus, a food label is contemplated as a direct source of product information between the buyers and sellers. Preferably, food labels can be observed as a powerful tool for nutritional communication.

According to ICMR India State-Level Disease Burden Study report “India: Health of the Nation’s States”, estimated that death due to non-communicable disease (NCD) has proportionally increased from 37.09% in 1990 to 61.8% in 2016 (Lifestyle diseases in India, 2018). As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS); 2015-16, 11% of women (1 in 10) and 15% of men (1 in 7) of age 15-49 are hypertensive. The survey has also found that about 60.4% of people screened have never had their blood pressure measured. Indian State-level Disease Burden Report (2017) said that “Dietary risks," which includes diet low in fruits, vegetable and whole grains, but high in salt, sugar and fat, were India’s major risk factor for health loss in 2016. 

In order to generate the awareness among people Eat Right Movement was launched on 10th July 2018 to create ‘new food culture’ with an aim of nudging businesses and consumers to reduce the intake of foods high in salt, sugar and trans fat. So, food labelling is one way which assists people to include healthy food items in their daily meal. Therefore, nutrition information on food labels can help the consumer select healthier food items during grocery shopping.

But question arises, do consumers view food labels, do they read and understand them or do they use it in their day-to-day life while purchasing? Robert, S.D.,  & Chandran, A. (2017) study showed that many consumers claimed they read all the information like nutrient content, price, expiry date, serving size and ingredients prior to the purchase of any food product but they might not fully understand the information mentioned on it. For example, high-fibre biscuits are high in fibre but they contain a high percentage of fats as well. So, this indicates that they are not as healthy as they claim. Though the fibre intake is high it also increases the fat content of our plate. Dutta S & Patel D (2017) study indicated that 86.7% of participants read the label information before buying any food product. And it was also seen that education level and gender difference are directly correlated to the awareness and perception of the necessity of food labelling.

Thus, nutritional labelling of food has become critical not because the consumer has a right to know what ingredients are present in the food products but also to support consumers follow a healthy balanced diet. Do you know how to read a food label, what information to look for and how to evaluate it?  

Figure 1: Food label indicating general information, principle display panel and nutritional information panels the mandatory information.

Mostly food packages have at least two panels which are important to show the mandatory information.

Principle Display Panel (PDP): Most likely to be presented to the buyers and comes on the “front” side. This panel contains the usual name of the product and the net quantity of the contents.

Information Panel (IP): This panel displays most of the required additional information. 

Consumer Panel (CP): The remaining area on the package can be thought of as the consumer panel which occupies much of the optional information.

Figure 2: Importance of nutrition label. 

 Figure 3: How to read a nutritional label

   

Figure 4: How to read the amount of nutrients present on the label.

 

 Basically, we have to focus on four components displayed on a standard nutrition label. By understanding each component you  can select the healthier food items for you.

  • Serving Size: This is the most eye-catching part as the nutritional values are based on it. Some companies may indicate a lower serving size just to present that food you are buying is healthier.
  • Calorie Count: Gives you information about the energy content. This indicates the number of calories present per serving. So select foods based on your energy requirement. For example, some want to lose weight than he/she may go for low-calorie foods.
  • % Daily Value or % RDA

This figure shows what percentage of a nutrient is found per serving. DV is hinged on a 2000 - calorie diet for a healthy adult. Like, if the label mentions 20% for iron, it means that single serving will provide you 20 per cent of the iron you need to consume daily. Along with this, %DV only gives information whether the food is a good or bad source of nutrients that it contains.

Some of the food products represent their nutrient content as daily value while some show as per cent RDA. % RDA  is the Recommended Dietary Allowances which refers to the quantity of nutrient and calorie intake per day which is considered essential for maintaining good health.

  • Nutrients

 This is where a consumer should focus on each and every point. As nutrition is our foremost priority and plays a cardinal role in the overall development of human being. Look for macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and micronutrients (vitamin and mineral).

Under carbohydrates check what type of a carb is the food product loaded with as it is the most important information. Add food products high in fibre and low in simple carbs like refined flour. Besides this, high sugary products are often related to overstay, obesity and non-communicable diseases.

In the case of fats, total fat is listed on the label which is a combination of 3 types of fats - unsaturated (PUFA and MUFA), saturated and trans fatty acids. Ideally, prefer food products which contain no amount of trans fatty acids while some saturated and unsaturated. But it is difficult to achieve that zero per cent level so, you can buy products which are low in trans fatty acids as it is responsible for raising your cholesterol like chips, baked goods, etc.

Sodium is the most important micronutrient which has both benefits and adverse effects based on intake. High sodium intake leads to serious diseases, especially hypertension. On the other side, sodium helps in muscle contraction, hydration, etc. So, you should keep your sodium intake in-between 1500mg per day.

Conclusion

From this article, we conclude that food labelling plays a cardinal role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, some studies suggest that people read the label but they don’t fully understand the information mentioned on it. As we all know that knowledge is power so, the nutritional knowledge helps us make the right choice. Besides this, reading food label assists the consumer to make healthy choices by adding healthy foods to their daily plate. Apart from this, few studies showed that accelerating nutritional knowledge of buyers could improve nutrition communication via food labels.

REFERENCES

  • Lifestyle diseases in India. (2018).Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.Retrieved from http://pib.nic.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1540840
  • Indian Council of Medical Research.(2017).Public Health Foundation of India, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. India: Health of the Nation's States — The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative. New Delhi, India: ICMR, PHFI, and IHME;.
  • Robert, S.D., & Chandran, A.(2017). Survey on Consumer Knowledge and Use of Food Labels.International Journal of Health Sciences & Research, 7(10), 203-209
  • Dutta S & Patel D (2017). Study of Consumer Awareness on Food Labelling and Use of Pack Information for Purchase of Pre-Packaged Food Products. International Journal of Indian Psychology, 4(4), 62-72

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