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Klára Hýsek
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WHY YOU SHOULD READ YOUR FOOD LABELS

Getting tired of reading labels of food items you want to buy? Or wondering why others are always reading food labels? We will try to explain to you today why food labels are important.

 

Reading food labels is important if you want a healthy and balanced diet. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA requires all packaged food to have a “Nutrition Facts” label. This label has several sections. It starts with the number of servings and the serving size. All the information below here is for the serving size indicated above. For example, the number of calories is based on that specific serving size. Below the calories is the percentage daily value – how much specific nutrients in that serving contribute percentage wise to an average daily diet of 2,000 calories.

 

The section with the detail on the nutrients is very interesting. You can see the different types of fat (saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, salt (sodium) and sugars: all nutrients you would like to limit in a healthy diet. It also shows the nutrients you should get enough off: dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. The label also shows total carbohydrate and protein.

Let’s talk a bit more about the different types of nutrients, starting with the “good” ones.

If you want to buy foods high in dietary fiber, it should be equal to or higher than 20% on the label. 5% or less is considered low in dietary fiber. Vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron are important for a healthy diet. Calcium for example gives you strong bones.

Sugar is something we would like to avoid in a healthy diet. The sugar section on the label contains since 2016 also information on “added” sugars – useful if you are particularly avoiding those, taking into account that food items made with fruits will contain sugar from inside those fruits (“fruit sugar”) also. Too much fat – especially saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and sodium increases the risk of you getting high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers: better to avoid these!

 

 

The Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) determines how allergens are represented on packaged foods. Allergens should be mentioned as part of the ingredients list. This ingredients list is usually placed under or next to the Nutrition Facts label. FALCPA looks at 8 major food components that cause the majority of allergic food reactions in the USA: milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish. So this is another very important reason to look at food labels: preventing the majority of allergic reactions for you and your loved ones! Please note that FALCPA does not include all allergens, and they might therefore not be included in the ingredient list. This is for example the case for sesame.

 

Now the big questions is: Should we keep reading labels of food items we buy all the time? Absolutely yes! -  Ingredients and even percentages of nutrients in food items can change at any time; so keep on reading your food labels all the time to prevent a changes to your diet and allergic reactions.

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