Reading and understanding food labels help us make healthier food choices.

Eating healthier and better in Singapore begins at the supermarket when we make food choices for the fridge, freezer and pantry.

Understanding Food Labels

Reading food labels or nutrition facts labels correctly is the first step to making sure your kitchen is stocked with healthier food products. 

According to Serene Tay, Principal Dietitian, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, some common obstacles when reading food labels include poor eyesight, a complicated ingredients list or misinterpreting the numbers. 

Nutrition Information

The nutrition information is presented as ‘per serving’ and ‘per 100g’, which may be complicated to understand,” Ms Tay pointed out. 

Ingredient Lists

“Manufacturers may also use less common names for ingredients such as salt (sodium chloride) and sugar (maltose or fructose), so people may think a certain ingredient is not in the ingredient list.”

Nutritional Claims

Some nutritional claims such as ‘low cholesterol’ or ‘no added sugar’ may also be misunderstood as a certain food item being cholesterol- or sugar-free.

Reading the nutrition labels is a good way to find out the actual calorie, fat, sodium, sugar and cholesterol content.​

​​How to Read Food Labels or Nutrition Fact Labels

Servings per package 

The number of servings in a single container or packet. There could be more than one serving per package. 

Serving size 

This measure of a single-serving is defined by the manufacturer and varies from product to product. Be aware that the single serving indicated may be less than what you would typically eat.

A packet of potato chips may contain 160 calories per 30g serving and contain ten servings. This means if you eat the whole packet, you would have had a whopping 1,600 calories. 

Comparing values 

When choosing between items look at the ‘per 100g’ or ‘per 100ml’ information as it offers a similar base of comparison rather than serving size, which varies. 

Nutritional data 

Focus on the key nutrients that are important to you. If you are on a diet, look at the energy or calorie values. For people with high blood pressure, zoom in on the sodium value or check the saturated fat and cholesterol amounts if you have high cholesterol. Be mindful of fat content; no more than 30 per cent of your daily calories should come from fat.​

Look Out for Healthier Choice Symbols

​Ms Tay recommends that as an alternative to reading nutrition labels, it may be more convenient and less confusing by looking out for the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice Symbols on food products. Products with healthier choice logos are healthier than similar products.

​“Be mindful that these logos only acts as a guide and foods endorsed with these logos should still be eaten in moderation,” she advised.

Read the original article [PDF].

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