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SHOCKING FOOD LABELS AND PACKAGING REALITY : You Need to Know !

Written By Sandhya Narasimhan 

Founder & Clinical Nutritionist 


Edited & Presented By Foodogma


Content

Nutritional Content of Food Labels | Importance of food labels | Hyped health food labels | Food labels in India | Types of food labelling | Indian packaged food industry loophole | Why processed food is bad |


ALARMING FOOD LABELS AND PACKAGING REALITY

 

Nutritional Content of Food Labels

Food labels are super important for us consumers who want to know what exactly we're putting into our bodies. But let's be real, sometimes understanding all that info can be a bit confusing. That's where this guide comes in handy. We're here to break down the key parts of nutritional information, so you can make smarter choices about what you eat. Let’s start decoding food labels.

Serving Size: The Foundation of Nutritional Assessment

The foundation of understanding a food's nutritional profile lies in the serving size. This standardized value, expressed in grams, millilitres, or common household units (e.g., cups, slices), represents the amount of food to which the nutrient information pertains. It's crucial to pay close attention to this value, as the listed nutrient quantities reflect a single serving. Be mindful that a single package may contain multiple servings, and adjust your consumption accordingly to avoid exceeding your dietary requirements.

Macronutrients

The macronutrients, or nutrients that your body uses in large amounts, are presented as a breakdown of energy sources. They are:

• Fat

• Carbohydrates

• Protein

Micronutrients

The micronutrients or nutrients that your body uses in small amounts, are important for overall health and well-being. Some important micronutrients that may be listed on a food label include:


Can I Rely on Food Labels?

Although there has been some legislation around food labelling, it can often be confusing, deceptive, or difficult to understand. As a consumer, it’s important to be aware of certain practices you might see on the label, and how to interpret them correctly.

• Sodium: This nutrient, or lack thereof, can be of great importance to individuals with certain dietary needs. Be aware of table salt versus sea salt versus other alternatives.

• Vitamins and Minerals: These will vary by food source, but examples that are often listed include Vitamin D, Calcium, and Iron.

Daily Value (%DV)

The percentage values, or Daily Value (%DV), column is especially useful as it gives a reference point for the amount of a nutrient you are getting from one serving. Remember that these percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so you may require more or fewer calories per day. In general, try to choose foods that are low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars (%DV less than 5%) and low in fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron and Potassium (%DV 20% or more).


Importance of food labels


Food labels are an important part of the contemporary food environment. By providing a consistent and consistent format of food information from manufacturers to consumers, food labels provide individuals opportunities to eat in ways that best meet their individual needs and health objectives. This paper will discuss the different aspects of food labelling including their contribution to consumer health, food regulation and industry transparency.


Aids in Consumer Nutrition Decision Making

Food labels inform consumers about the nutritional composition of food products indicating the amount of macronutrients (lipids, carbohydrates, protein) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) in one serving of food. This information is crucial for consumers in choosing foods that best meet their nutritional needs whether for weight management, other health related goals or general wellness. For example, many people with diabetes manage their condition by eating foods that are lower in carbohydrate and sugar. Conversely, people interested in muscle gain may select foods that are high in protein.

 

Food Regulation and Allergen Prevention

Through food labels, manufacturers contribute to consumer health protection by explicitly identifying ingredient components including known allergens like peanut, soy, wheat and dairy. Many individuals suffer from food hypersensitivity thus understanding food labels allow them to identify and avoid foods or ingredients that may trigger an adverse reaction. Food labels also include important information pertaining to food storage and handling like “use by” or “best before” dates which helps in preventing food borne diseases related to food spoilage.

 

Food Labels Empower Consumers & Promote Industry Transparency

Food labels are the ultimate “levelling the playing field” story. They give all consumers consistent access to the information & knowledge they need to make effective decisions – regardless of education, economic status, or pre-existing nutritional knowledge. They empower people to take control of their own health & well-being through something as simple and every day as “what you eat”. And perhaps most importantly, awareness that consumers can easily obtain comprehensive nutritional data about the products they purchase promotes manufacturers using healthier ingredients and more transparent labelling practices. The food industry becomes more responsible and accountable due to transparency provided to all consumers.

 

Food labels give all consumers consistent access to the tools they need to make effective dietary decisions, protect against food borne illness and allergic reactions, and generally operate in the food industry with more confidence and less fear. Take the time to understand the incredible wealth of knowledge it offers, and together we can promote a better, healthier empowered consumer.


Hyped health food labels


Health food claims and labels can be misleading and confusing. Labels and marketing may imply the food is “all-natural,” “superfood,” or “low-fat,” but don’t necessarily mean it. Here are some tips for deciphering misleading health food claims and labels:


Natural" Isn't Necessarily Healthy : There is very little government regulation on the use of the term "natural." A so-called "natural" product may be very high in sugar, unhealthy fats, or sodium. Instead, read the label.

 

"Low-fat" Does Not Equal "Low-calorie" : Many food manufacturers replace healthy fats with added sugars or other unhealthy fillers to retain flavour and consistency. Instead, look at the total calories and sugar.

 

 

Sugar, Sugar, Sugar : Many processed health foods obtain a good portion of their calories from invisible sugar sources like high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, or concentrated fruit juice.

 

FOP (Front-of-Package) Tricks : Many packaged foods display pictures of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains on the front but may not contain these ingredients at all. Instead, always read the label – particularly the back – for nutrient totals.

 

Food labels in India

Food labels in India serve a very important purpose of consumer protection and educated eating decisions. There are defined labeling requirements as per Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to bring transparency and consumer power. This article will take you through the important aspects of food labels in India and give you a winning strategy for a more educated grocery purchase.

What Food Labels should tell you?

Language: It is required that food labels are in English or Hindi as per the central government rules. Some state governments may also insist on labelling in their respective languages for greater consumer convenience.

Understanding the components of your food label and the information it provides can significantly enhance your grocery shopping experience, aiding in more deliberate and health-focused choices.

 

Focusing on Health and Consumer Protection through Food Labelling:

The underlying goal of food labelling is to advance consumer protection and health. Through labelling, manufacturers demonstrate transparency and commitment to quality, whereas regulatory bodies enforce laws to safeguard consumer interests. This interplay between industry and government supports a balanced approach, ensuring labelling adheres to established standards for consumer benefit.

All of the above are standard requirements for your food label to tell you of its contents and in a way, tell you how it may help or harm your diet and health. Knowing where to look on your food label can help you in more conscious and health oriented grocery buying.


Health and Consumer Protection Agenda of Food Labelling:

The immediate agenda of food labelling is consumer protection and health. Manufacturers strive to bring power and transparency to their products through labelling while at the same time, the government enacts statutes and enforces rules for consumer welfare. This dance between industry and government ensures a check and balance system where labelling is done only as per laid down norms and for the greater consumer good.


Decoding Labels for Making Better Choices:

Be Smart About Serving Sizes: Pay close attention to the serving size mentioned on the label. The nutrient information provided applies to that specific amount. Sometimes, a seemingly healthy option might actually have multiple servings per package, which can impact your overall nutrient intake.

Keep an Eye on Sugar: Don't just focus on the word "sugar" in the ingredient list. It's important to be mindful of the total sugar content, including any added sugars. These can have a significant impact on the overall healthiness of the product.

Be Cautious of Health Claims: While labels may boast about their health benefits, it's essential to prioritize the ingredient list and nutritional information for a more accurate understanding of the product's true health value.


Types of Food Labelling

Food labelling regulations can be divided into two main categories: mandatory and voluntary.

Mandatory Labelling: The Foundation of Consumer Protection

Mandatory labels are required by law and are vital for consumer safety and informed decision-making. These labels provide crucial details about the product, ensuring transparency and responsible consumption. Key elements of mandatory food labels include:

Product Identification: This section clearly states the product name, brand (if applicable), and symbols indicating whether it's suitable for vegetarians or non-vegetarians.

Ingredient List: Presented in descending order of volume, the ingredient list allows consumers to quickly understand what the product is made of. This transparency is especially important for those with allergies or specific dietary restrictions.

Nutritional Information Panel: This panel provides a standardized breakdown of key nutrients per serving or per 100 grams. It typically includes:

• Energy (calories)

• Macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) with details on subcategories like saturated fat, sugars, and fiber.

• Micronutrients (sometimes includes sodium, vitamins, and minerals)

• Traceability and Accountability: This section ensures product safety and facilitates recall procedures if needed. It usually includes:

• Manufacture, packaging, or expiry dates to help you make informed choices based on freshness.

• Batch or lot numbers for traceability in case of product recalls.

• Manufacturer or importer details for contact purposes.

• Regulatory body symbol (e.g., FSSAI logo in India) for compliance verification.

By using a combination of system and user prompts, the assistant aims to refine the text into a more human-like version while staying true to the original content's intent and factual accuracy.

Voluntary Labelling: A Marketing Tool with Some Things to Consider

Voluntary labels aren't required by law, but manufacturers use them to provide extra information or make marketing claims. It's important to approach these labels with a critical eye and not rely solely on them instead of carefully examining the mandatory information. Here are some common examples of voluntary labels:

Fortification Status: You might see logos indicating that the product is fortified with important vitamins or minerals.

Quality Certifications: Symbols like the ISI Mark (India) or AGMARK (India) show that the product meets specific quality standards set by regulatory bodies.

Health Claims: These statements highlight the supposed health benefits of the product. But it's crucial to verify these claims by checking the ingredient list and nutritional information panel to get a more objective assessment.

"Natural" or "Organic" Claims: The meaning and regulation of these terms can vary depending on where you are. It's a good idea to scrutinize the ingredient list to get a clearer picture.

Front-of-Package Labelling: These labels often have eye-catching visuals or claims designed to sway your purchasing decisions. While they can be informative, it's essential to prioritize the detailed information on the back of the label to fully understand the product.

Remember, voluntary labels can be helpful, but it's always wise to dig deeper and get a complete understanding of what you're buying.

 

 

Indian packaged food industry loophole

The Indian packaged food industry has been growing significantly in recent years. But there are some concerns about food labelling regulations that have come up. These concerns could make it harder for consumers to make fully informed decisions about their diet.

One area of concern is the way serving sizes are represented. Just like in other countries, some manufacturers in India may use unrealistically small serving sizes on their labels. This can make it seem like a product has less sugar, calories, or sodium than it actually does. So if people only pay attention to the "per serving" information, they might end up consuming more than they realize, and that could go beyond what they need in their diet.

Another issue is how sugar content is labelled. The current regulations allow for very small amounts of sugar (less than 0.5g) to be labelled as "zero." This can be misleading, especially for people who are trying to cut down on sugar. Also, manufacturers can use different names for added sugars, like high fructose corn syrup or maltodextrin. This can make it hard for people to identify and understand the actual sugar content of a product.

But there are ways for Indian consumers to make more informed choices when reading food labels. Here are some strategies to help you make better decisions:

Take a close look at the ingredient list: Don't just skim through it. Take the time to really examine the ingredients. If you see any unfamiliar or sugar-heavy ingredients listed near the top, you might want to think twice before buying.

Be smart about serving sizes: Don't rely solely on the "per serving" information. Pay attention to the total size of the package and adjust your consumption accordingly, so you don't end up eating more than you should.

Don't be fooled by "zero" claims: Don't let claims of "zero" sugar trick you. Look beyond that and carefully check the total sugar content listed on the label for a more accurate picture.

 

Why processed food is bad


Processed foods may be convenient and have a longer shelf life, but they come with some serious downsides that can seriously affect your overall health. Let's take a closer look at why having a diet high in processed foods can be pretty harmful:

- Nutritional Depletion: When foods go through processing, they often lose important nutrients that are naturally found in whole foods. Vitamins, minerals, and fiber all tend to get stripped away, leaving the final product with a much lower nutritional value. Depending too heavily on processed foods can result in deficiencies in your diet.

Unhealthy Fat, Sugar, and Sodium Overload: Processed foods are often packed with unhealthy stuff like saturated and Trans fats, added sugars, and way too much sodium. These ingredients can cause all sorts of health issues, including:

Weight Gain and Obesity: Processed foods tend to be high in calories, making it easy to overeat and pack on the pounds.

Cardiovascular Disease: Unhealthy fats and too much sodium are known risk factors for heart disease.

Type 2 Diabetes: Added sugars can really mess with your blood sugar levels and increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

High Blood Pressure: Consuming too much sodium can seriously raise your blood pressure levels.

Fiber Deficiency: Dietary fiber is super important for digestion, gut health, and keeping you feeling full and satisfied. Unfortunately, processing often removes a big chunk of the fiber content from foods. This can lead to digestive problems like constipation and increased hunger cravings, which can result in overeating.

The Potential Impact of Additives and Preservatives: Many processed foods contain artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, and other additives. While regulatory bodies say they're generally safe to eat, we don't fully understand the long-term effects of consuming large amounts of these additives on our health.

Potential for Addiction: Processed foods are often created to be incredibly tasty, with a mix of fat, sugar, and salt that lights up our brain's reward system. This can lead to cravings and overeating, creating a cycle of unhealthy eating habits.


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