Ever since I learned to buy food for myself, I developed a curiosity—or even fascination—with food labels. There should be there for a reason. It was not when I tried to research about them that I discovered they are more than pieces of glued or printed labels.
The Importance of Learning How to Read Labels
“Why do I have to bother reading the labels?” Good question! I asked that myself. It takes about a minute to read everything. If I buy, say, 15 items, that is 15 minutes wasted on reading, right? But over the years, I have learned that by reading:
- I know what I feed myself. Will I be happy to eat something with corn syrup? The answer is no, but I will never really know unless I read the label.
- Counting calories is easy. I believe that to be fit, one has to know the desired calorie for his body. Reading allows me to make informed choices with food and help me understand its relationship with calories.
- I get more or less of something. Am I getting enough protein? Am I eating too much salt or sodium in a day? How about fat? These data are right there in the label.
- I learn how food is manufactured. The more I read the label, the more I am encouraged to eat whole food, simply because many products have ingredients I could not even pronounce.
Things to Remember when Reading
1. The information is based on the 2,000-calorie diet recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. Take note, however, that since we are made of different bodies with different needs, it is possible that your actual calorie consumption is lower or higher than 2,000. Nevertheless, you can adjust based on the data found on the label.
2. Take note that it is calorie per day. In other words, your total calories should not exceed over what is recommended to you.
3. Read servings per container. A 250 g canned good may have only 90 calories, but if it says 4 per container, its total calories is actually 360 calories! You can then choose to eat a serving or look for a healthier alternative.
4. Check out the rest of the percentages. The basic rule is that if the figures are usually 20% or higher, you are better off with something else. Always aim for products with around 5% or less of fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Since the same rule goes to important nutrients such as vitamins, you want to have high percentages for them.
5. Be mindful of the ingredients as well. This is especially true when you are maintaining a specific diet. For example, do you know there are over 200 possible names for sugar?
6. There are apps to make nutrition label reading easier. There are so many apps that can provide you with some food education on the go, and some are intended to help you read food labels more quickly and easily.