Many of the health conscious amongst us have a fear of packaged and canned foods. We have heard a great deal about chemical additives, preservatives, added colours and MSG. The youth today knows the difference between fruit juice and 100% fruit juice. But are they aware of fructose corn syrup in fruit juices? Do they know how to read food labels?

Who doesn’t like convenience? Each day of our life is a constant struggle to make our  life more and more convenient. And with lots of varieties of packaged foods in the market preparation of food has become a matter of minutes. The consumer in us goes by the advertisements and forget the nutritional part while buying a food product. What you eat should be a healthy pack of nutrition and taste. But how can you gauge the nutrition in packed foods? That’s when your food label comes to help.

Food Labels and Nutritional Facts

Understanding a food label is important for your health. It gives you information about the calories, grams of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, sugars, and protein contained in each serving of the food product. Food labels are in real not intended for the consumer’s information but for advertising and selling the product. It cannot be overlooked that some food labels are not as direct as they seem to be hiding any possible harmful ingredients like MSG or BHT. A single glance at the back of the product with a long food label or a short one generally surmises two things about it. A long list of ingredients may not speak of its nutrients but of additives, preservatives and more. But a short one needs more attention before ascertaining that it is healthy and eatable. I can give you a fine tip on reading food labels. If you find tiny illegible or indecipherable letters hidden inside the flap of a packet then it is a must that you read them before buying the product.

Don’t fall for phrases like “all natural”, “no artificial”, “100% natural” and so on, on the packet as they need not indicate that the product is free from any harmful additives. Only food labels can lead you to safety.

Fruit Juices

It’s summer and you need a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration and to replenish your system. You are recommended at least 3-4 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to stay fit.

Taking advantage of the purchasing power of the mass, a wide variety of pure fruit juices are made available by different companies. Some are not fresh fruit juices as they are made of concentrates and pulps while some others are 100% juices made from fresh fruits.  Most of the packets state that they are devoid of artificial preservatives and additives. But what about the added fructose?  I have not seen any 100% fruit juice box that speaks of any added sugars but their mouth watering taste has always charmed me. It is rumoured that many of the fruit juices contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which accounts for their unusual sweetness. Too much of HFCS in the body ends up as triglycerides in the blood which is a risk factor for heart disease, weight gain and of course, type II diabetes. Additionally, juices with added pulp may not carry the antioxidants from the real fruit.

Whatever be the case, boxed fruit juice can never replace home made fruit juice in nutrition. Boxed juices are deprived of their minerals, vitamins, skin and fibre in the process of packing.

Trans Fats and Salt

Many readymade foods contain trans fats in the form of “partially hydrogenated”, “fractionated”, or “hydrogenated”  fats. The rule of the thumb is that if you don’t know what the food labels says avoid buying the food product. You don’t lose anything by doing so.

Even if the manufacturer hides it sodium is present in most of the packed or processed foods. Ideally, you should consume only 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Claims like “sodium-free” or “reduced sodium” don’t mean much as sodium is added to keep a product moist free and away from bacteria and fungus.

Now the reliability of the food label depends on the credibility of the respective authorities and the rules of the FDA.

-AparnA K V