A nutrition facts label includes information such as total fat, calories from fat, serving size and others.

We’ve all seen it before, even if not all of us pay attention to it. When we buy any packaged food products, whether it’s at the supermarket or the convenience store, there’s a familiar, ubiquitous label on it.

That’s right, it’s the nutrition label! It’s also referred to as the nutrition panel or nutrition facts label. If you’ve never given much thought to it before, you should start doing so.

Why We Need to Read Nutrition Labels

Nutrition labelling is there to help consumers make informed food choices. For example, some products might make some nutrition claim and say there’s no added sugar in it.

You might think that means it’s a healthy drink with no sugar, but if you were to take a look at the nutrition information panel, you’ll realise that the product—especially fruit juices—actually contains a fair amount of sugar in it!

The Big Picture

By law, every packaged food must have a label that provides important information to help you make informed food choices. While food labels are not allowed to lie, manufacturers do try to draw attention to the good points and make certain health claims, so be alert!

Basic Information on Food Labels

Standard information that a packaged product has to list includes:

  • Name: For instance, if you are buying milk, the product must state clearly whether it’s whole or low-fat milk, regular or flavoured, chilled milk or UHT product.
  • Weight
  • Storage and usage instructions
  • The manufacturer or importer: Go with trusted brands for more assurance of quality and safety.

Read the Fine Print

That’s not all! The devil is in the details and here’s where it might be a good idea to carry a pair of spectacles when we go grocery shopping.

The Ingredient List

This part of the label tells us exactly what is in our food. It details the ingredients, starting from the one that is found in the largest quantity down to the one with the least quantity.

If you have allergies or have dietary restrictions or preferences, this list is critical.

The Nutrition Information Panel

This panel lists the actual nutritional value of the product. The amount of each nutrient is listed in two formats — per 100 g or per 100 ml and per serving.

(from https://www.hpb.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/handbook-on-nutrition-labelling.pdf?sfvrsn=0)

A recommended nutrition information panel (NIP) should meet the following basic requirements:

  • The nutrition information panel can include the core list of nutrients namely energy, protein, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, dietary fibre and sodium.
  • The energy and nutrient values can be stated in per 100 g / 100 ml and per serving of the food.
  • The nutrition information panel can include the number of servings per package and the serving size.
  • For powdered beverages and liquid concentrates, an additional column of per 100ml (as reconstituted) can be included.
  • The variance between the declared value and analysed value has to be within 20%.

Making Sense of the Nutritional Information Panel

Compare the Nutrition Information Panel of two similar products, such as breakfast cereal. Compare the nutrients (fibre, vitamins and minerals) per 100g rather than per serving. A single serving may be 100g for one brand and 120g for another.

Generally, the product lower in energy, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium is the healthier choice. You should also take note of the total calories, as well as the calories from fat in the product.

Focus on a few key nutrients. If you are trying to lose weight, compare energy values. If you are concerned about high blood pressure, zoom in to the sodium values. If you have diabetes or have pre-diabetes, take note of the carbohydrate, sugar, and fibre content, as they affect blood sugar levels. Fat-free products can still be high in sugar.

Look For the Symbol

If you’re strapped for time and don’t have the patience to read and compare the Nutrition Information Panels of similar products, look for the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) on food labels.

Look out for the Healthier Choice Symbol when choosing healthy food products

Products carrying the HCS are generally lower in fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Some are also higher in dietary fibre and calcium compared to other products in the same category.

Snacks that display the HCS are portioned to 100-calorie packs for crisps/chips and 200 calories per serve for ice cream so that you can still treat yourself but not over-indulge. Ask yourself how many calories do you need a day? Depending on your gender, level of physical activity and age, you might not need more than 2,000 calories a day.

The next time you visit a supermarket, take some time to read the label of one food package you buy regularly, so you know the nutrition value you are getting. Shop smart, eat smart!

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.