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How important is reading nutrition labels?

Recently, CAG conducted a survey, a first of its kind, to understand the awareness levels about trans fats among the various sections of the people of Tamil Nadu. The survey results revealed that awareness levels were generally low across all categories, which included general consumers, oil industry, hotel and bakery owners/representatives, and doctors.

One of the survey questions was about reading labels on food products. While it was heartening to note that most of the participants looked for details like the Maximum Retail Price (MRP), manufacturing and expiry dates, etc. it was upsetting to see that only around 12% of them checked the nutritional information on labels.

 Source: American Heart Association

A nutritional label looks similar to the picture shown above. As per Food Safety and Standards  (Packaging and Labelling) Regulation 2011, it is a legal requirement for all food industries to mention nutritional facts about the food on the packet. Nutritional label to contain the following,

i) energy in kilocalories (kcal); As per Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), per-person per-day calorie intake has to be 2400 kcal for rural areas and 2100 kcal for urban areas.

ii) type of fatty acids i.e. amount of saturated fatty acid, mono / poly unsaturated fatty acid and trans fatty acids in grams (g) and amounts of cholesterol in milligrams (mg).

Why is nutritional information on labels important? 

  • Nutrition labels display information like amounts of carbohydrates, sugars, protein, salt, vitamins, minerals, etc expressed in grams (g) or millilitres (ml) - to know how healthy the food is. 
  • Along with the nutrition expressed per portion, the label also informs the number of portions present in the food packet (serving) - to know how much we should consume.
  • The per cent (%) indicates the approximate amount of nutrients for an average human being - depending on intake.
  • Certain food packets also display colour codes for high, medium and low levels of nutrients especially salt, sugar, and fat through red, amber and green colours respectively [1]

Upon reading nutritional facts, 

  • Starting with the serving size, it helps us to calculate the calories and nutrients we need to consume as individuals. More the servings we eat, the more calories we gain.
  • Nutritional labels help cut back sodium (salt), cholesterol, sugar and fats (saturated and trans fat). We can always opt to compare similar food products and choose food with less of mentioned nutrients. 
  • Choosing food products with beneficial nutrients like high dietary fibre, calcium, potassium, iron, vitamins, and minerals can make for a balanced consumption [2].

Thus, developing the habit of  reading nutritional facts on labels is important as it helps in making informed, healthier choices. Read and choose wisely!

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