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Do you know how to read nutrition labels?


nutrition labelI spoke to a group of parents and children on how to read nutrition labels this weekend and decided it will be good to blog about this for a larger audience.  From my experience, even among the educated, ‘Nutrition Literacy’ is far from where it should be and learning to read nutrition labels can be a good starting point.

Most of us walk into a grocery store and add items to our basket, blissfully unaware of what nutrition it actually delivers.  In fact, many of us hardly ever stop to read the label and even if we do get around to looking at it, we may not be sure what the numbers imply.  So here are some pointers which will help you decide if the product falls in the “healthy or not so healthy category” and how often you or your child should consume it.

“No Label Don’t Buy -check for nutrition label on the food pack you buy. Today, all food manufacturers in the country have to declare the following on a label -nutritional facts per 100 g or 100 ml or per serving of the product-

  • energy value in kcal,
  •  total carbohydrate  and sugar,
  • the amount of protein,
  • fat in gram (g) or ml, and
  •  vitamins and minerals for which a health claim is made.

“Match Nutrition information to the quantity you eat”– next check if the nutrition information is given per 100 g or per serving. If

  • Net weight  grams =   grams declared on the nutrition label -  the package is a one serve pack, say net weight is 30g and the nutrition label gives information for a serving size, then the numbers you see on the label is the nutrition you get from the pack.
  • Net weight (g or ml) > grams/ml declared on the nutrition label – a good example for this is  the fruit drinks/juices segment – nutrition facts are often shown per 100 ml even when a typical serve size is 200 ml. So if you are not alert to this fact, you might assume that your child is consuming only half the calories /sugar!
  • Net weight (g)  < grams on nutrition label- The single serve snack packs which we buy frequently for children weigh approximately 30 g while  nutrition information is given for 100 g, so we need to do some simple division here else you might be left wondering how a small packet can deliver so many calories!

“Stay away from large snack packs” – they weigh more than 100 g, but present nutrition information for 100 g. Unfortunately, current labeling norms do not mandate serving size, and even if they did when was the last time you were able to convince your child to close the packet after eating 15 chips?  So, it is wiser to stick to the single serve /smaller packs!

“Deciphering the calories further”:  What is declared on the pack is the total calories you get from the product. To arrive at the number of calories from fat multiply the amount of fat, given in grams by 9, for carbohydrates and proteins, multiply by 4.

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Meera Srinivasan is on the ParentEdge Editorial Panel. She has a background in Nutrition and Food Technology and comes with more than 15 years of experience in the food industry. As an involved parent of a 12-year old girl, she is passionate about increasing awareness on nutrition and health among children and parents.


4 thoughts on “Do you know how to read nutrition labels?

  1. Shuchi Gangwal

    Hi Meera, This is indeed very useful : decoding labels – simply explained :) . I think the most important part is the 100g/ml/serving (variable) unit for which the declaration is done on the packs irrespective of the overall size of the pack – something we need be extremely careful about !

    Reply
  2. Kritika Srinivasan

    Thanks for this Meera. I dont think most of us bother to read nutrition labels at all – we just rush to pop things into our basket and then we are on our way out.

    I must add, though your post is clear and helpful in telling us what to do, it is still pretty confusing for an average person to read a nutrition label correctly. For instance, how would an aam aadmi know that to calculate the amount of calories you get from fat, you need to multiply by 9?!!! Do companies do this deliberately – keep this information confusing so that people simply pick up stuff without bothering to read the labels?

    Meera – it would be great if you could also do a post on junk food – and how much of it children can be allowed in a week, etc.

    Reply
  3. Meera

    thanks shuchi and kritika for your comments
    Shuchi yes the serving size is key so you know what nutrtion you are actually getting!
    Kritika – your are right currently we need to decipher this, in our country we have made start, hopefully we will move to the more evolved and transparent labeling followed in he west where percent calories from fat, carbohydrates and protein are declared.

    Junk food — good suggestion thanks will write about it

    Reply
  4. Senthil Sundar

    Interesting facts Meera. Let me start reading these labels and try to identify good products. Seems to be complex calculation while shopping.. May be post shopping we can do the analysis to be cautious next time :-)

    Reply

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