How to Read Labels: Frequently Asked Questions
Thousands of questions arise from a person who decides to «decipher» the information on the label, so we decided to help by answering the most common of them.
Question: Why do some manufacturers’ «reduced fat» crisps contain more fat than others’ basic crisps?
Answer: Reduced labeling indicates no comparison with the same company’s base product. If the fat content in brand A is much higher than in brand; B, then «reduced» brand A may have more fat than basic brand B. If you are deliberately reducing your fat intake, we advise you to always take into account the nutritional information per serving of a product before buying it.
Question: Can I assume that a product is in the health food category if it says «low fat» on the label?
Answer: Not necessarily. Food may be low in fat, but it may be high in sugar. A classic example of such a «trap» is «low» or «reduced fat» cookies: when you reduce the amount of fat that you use in your cake or cookie technology, you need to add something else instead of fat, otherwise the volume of the finished product will be too small. Usually, instead of fats removed from the product, sugar is added to it in large quantities. There is no one to blame if you yourself chose a cupcake «low in fat», but very sweet. If this is repeated for a long time, and you monitor your weight, then this can become a problem for you. Sometimes a huge amount of sugar, which is added instead of fat, increases the calorie content of the product almost to the base level. Unbelievable, but it is a fact!
Question: How do I understand the label «low fat» then?
Answer: Product selection should not be based on fat content information. See how many calories one serving of cake provides. If you monitor your weight, then it is the total number of calories you received per day that will affect the scale readings in the evening.
QuestionA: My reasoning is that if a product says «low fat» or «reduced fat» then I can eat twice as much. This is probably not very reasonable?
Answer: This is another little «trap» that it is human nature to fall into. The idea that you’re so «smart» because you chose low-fat food tempts you, and you are tempted to take two packages instead of one. But than so, it would be better if you took one standard package.
Question: What does the label «naturally low sugar» mean?
Answer: Some foods are naturally low in fat, salt, or sugar. Manufacturers should not draw attention to this circumstance and should not write “low fat” or “low sugar” on labels. If the content of these nutrients in these foods is low per se, the label should say:
«Low Fat Food» «Low Saturated Fat Food»
«Low Sugar Food»
«Light-salted food» or «Little sodium food»
«high fiber product»
This way, there is less concern that consumers will misinterpret the nutritional labeling of the product.
Question: Many foods and drinks in the store say they have something added, such as calcium or minerals. Are we getting extra nutrients when we eat these foods? Is the extra calcium in «calcium-fortified orange juice» as good for us as the calcium we get from milk and other dairy products?
Answer: In some cases (orange juice or calcium-fortified soy milk), these foods can actually be useful sources of this nutrient, especially for those people who do not eat natural dairy products (milk and yogurt are traditional sources of calcium for our body) . However, there are labels «with added calcium» on the packaging of food intended for children’s meals with processed cheese. These foods are rich in salt, contain quite a lot of additives, and their overall nutritional value is debatable. In our opinion, in this case, the placement of information about the addition of calcium is still not entirely correct.
Given all of the above, we advise you not to forget that the manufacturer may draw your attention to the reduced content of one nutrient in their product, while the content of another in it may be prohibitive. Remember the following:
- don’t be fooled by first impressions;
- do not take all the information on faith;
- turn the product over and read the sidebar with the nutritional table;
- if in doubt, put the product back on the shelf
- Only place a product in the cart if you are sure that its nutritional properties correspond to what is written on it.
Source: Adapted from How to Read Labels by Amanda Ursell
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