Not enough people know what to look out for in ingredient lists and nutritional labels. It’s crucial that you do, because that little box tells you exactly what is going into your body. More importantly, you find out whether the health claims of a product holds.
So here are 8 tips on how to read nutritional labels – you’ll be able to make better decisions at the supermarkets after this!
#1 THE ORDER OF ITEMS ON THE INGREDIENTS LIST
They’re not just randomly put, or sorted by alphabet. The ingredients are actually listed in descending order by weight. This means that the first item, makes up the biggest part of the product you’re buying. For example, you might see “Tomatoes” as the first ingredient on a bottle of pasta sauce. If “sugar” is the first or second ingredient for any product, especially one that claims to be healthy, you’re better off putting it back on the shelf.
#2 WATCH OUT FOR SERVING SIZES
Brands will sometimes try to trick you into thinking their products are low-calorie by playing around with the serving sizes.
Normally, you’d zoom right into the calories displayed in the first column. However, in some packaging, there will be a bar at the top of the table indicating that there are two servings in the product. You’ll need to multiply the calories, and all the numbers below it, by two, to get the accurate nutrient count for one bottle – which is what everyone typically consumes.
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#3 HOW TO USE THE “PER 100ML/100G” INFORMATION
The nutrition facts per 100ml/100g is useful for you to compare numbers across similar products from different brands. For example, if you’re holding two different tubs of plain yoghurt and are not sure which one to get, compare the information on both their labels – if one has a higher amount of nasties per 100ml (think trans fat, sugar and the like), pick the other one.
Sometimes this is also all the information you get, without numbers specific to the serving size. You can still make your own calculations anyway.
For example, one of the soft drinks that I had recently states that it has 10.6 sugar per 100ml. So in a 500ml bottle, you’re actually taking in about 10.6g x 5 = 53g of sugar. But of course, which health-concerned customer is going to buy a product that boldly declares it has 53g of sugar in it? Which brings me to my next point…
#4 LEARN TO CALCULATE SUGAR IN TEASPOONS
What is 53g of sugar anyway? 53g is pretty light, right? Well, if you were to divide the total grams of sugar by four, you will see how many teaspoons it is. 53g divided by 4, is 10.75. So drinking one bottle of this is equivalent to scooping almost 11 teaspoons of those sweet, white granules, into your mouth. Of course, it’s not like you should never relish such treats again, but with this knowledge, at least you can make better choices and enjoy in moderation.
#5 KILOJOULES (KJ) VS KILOCALORIES (KCAL)
Both are measurements of food energy but Singaporeans tend to be more familiar with the latter. 1kcal is equal to 4.1868kj – but how many people are going to be able to remember that, let alone accurately convert it in their head? Just divide the kj by 4 or 4.2 to get a rough gauge.
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#6 SUGAR HAS OTHER NAMES
You know the deal, you hit the supermarket shelves and the labels just scream at you: “LESS SUGAR!”, “SUGAR FREE!” and “NO-ADDED SUGAR!” It’s all very tempting, but sugar has many alter egos – a search on the internet will bring up the whole gamut: glucose, fructose, dextrose and maltose are just some of them. So go ahead and buy a carton of fruit juice, fully aware of what it contains (mainly fruit juice concentrate) – enjoy it moderately. Just don’t be tricked into buying it because brands claim it’s a healthier choice.
#7 COMPARE THE NET WEIGHTS OF SIMILAR PRODUCTS
This one isn’t so much about the nutritional value but about the prices. The net weight of a product is the actual weight of the food, sans packaging. For example, if two packets of macadamia nuts are of the same net weight, you could save some money by picking the cheaper one.
#8 LOOK AT WHAT THE “PERCENTAGE OF DAILY VALUES” IS BASED ON
The average woman with a sedentary job certainly doesn’t need 2,000 calories a day – which is what most products base their calculations on. That number may be more suited for men. For example, according to the Recommended Dietary Allowances by the Health Promotion Board, women aged 18 to 59, with low activity levels, should take between 1,720 and 1,745 kcal per day. Remember this the next time you see that a product fulfils “25% of your dietary fibre needs”.
It’s difficult to remember what all your daily requirements are, so one tip is to bookmark a webpage, or take a screenshot of your nutritional needs from reliable resources online, on your smartphone. That way you can access them easily for comparison when you’re grocery shopping.
About the writer:
Ruby Tan used to write for Her World, and is now a freelance writer with a dream to travel the world. She believes that the some of best things in life don’t have to be bought. If you want to make a friend, share travel tips and advice, or even to discuss deeply about life, write to her at [email protected]
Actually, there’s one other important factor to consider, remember that most nutritional labels are only so big because of the actual ingredients they are required to declare because of volumetric requirements. As such, the product can contain certain “nutrients” if it is present in such trace quantities that manufacturers are not required to declare it.
There may be certain nutrients present in trace amounts in a product. For one or two consumption, these trace amounts might not be dangerous, but consumption of the product over extended periods may lead to health issues. That cookie just might not REALLY be devoid of trans-fats, its just devoid of sufficient trans-fats that the manufacturer does not need to declare it.
I can’t recall the exact quantity, but the FDA does not require that all nutritional data are fully listed, if the quantity falls below a certain threshold, manufacturers are not required to actually list it. I’m not sure whats the case for Singapore’s declaration.