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What Do Food Labels Mean?

by Neha Mahajan

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The food aisles in the supermarkets are filled with tons of food varieties and sometimes a similar food type has different labels on them. What do these label mean and are they really worth our money?


Items that have been produced using methods good for earth are certified 100% organic. But just Organic means that items are at least 95% organic ingredients. They are made without any pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones or genetic engineering, harmful to health; research however is still to prove their superiority. It never hurts to go organic but costing wise they are at least 50% more expensive than non organic products. Otherwise it is better to eat healthy choices like fruits and vegetables instead of skipping them.


It means that the products contain no artificial colors, flavors, synthetic ingredients or preservatives. No research has proven that these are good for you. Just because something is natural doesn't mean its good for you. It can have a lot of sugar, fat or calories. Check the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to see what's really in them. You definitely don't need a chemistry degree to decipher simple facts.


Fat Free: It contains less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving. Low fat has less than three grams and Light- at least 50% less than its full counterpart. Lowering fat from diet can help reduce overall calorie intake and lead to weight loss. Most of the times, manufacturers add extra sugar or starch to keep products palatable. Fat free products also tend to be lesser satisfying and may cause people to overeat. Instead you could opt for low fat foods or even have smaller portions of full fat version.


 

It actually means that the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. These are associated with raising bad cholesterol or LDL which increase risk of heart disease and even stroke. These foods are generally high in calories and low in nutrients. Check the ingredient list and avoid any product that has the word 'hydrogenated' in it. But remember you should limit overall fat intake too.


Overall these are low in saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium and have no trans fats, three grams or less of fats per serving and at least 0.6 gram of soluble fiber. It doesn't necessarily lower the risk of heart disease but a diet rich in soluble fiber might. And most of these foods in the supermarkets do not have any labels at all. Oats, legumes, fruits can also reduce risk of heart disease.


Adults need about 2300 milligrams of sodium per day but an average American ends up eating 3000 to 5000 milligrams per day. This label means the product contains 140 milligrams or less per serving. Bread, grain based including some cereals have as much as two to three times the salt in a typical potato chips! So choose foods with fewer milligrams of sodium than calories. If a product contains 200 calories per serving, for instance, it should contain 200 milligrams or less of sodium.

Low-Carb: The term does not distinguish between good and refined carbs. Manufacturers generally replace the missing carbs with sugar, nuts or artificial sweeteners. So these foods end up having just as many calories as the other food. Best bets is to discard this label and pick foods that are healthy.


Sugar Free: It contains less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving. Right form diabetics to weight watchers use the products. But Sugar Free doesn't always mean low calorie. Manufacturers often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, such as lactitol, sorbitol, and xylitol, which may act as laxatives. Just remember to keep them under control.


No Antibiotics- Mainly on the red meat, poultry and milk, this means the animals were raised without being routinely fed antibiotics to keep them healthy. This does not affect humans. Even organic produce is raised in similar conditions. You can choose either.

No Hormones: Generally the label appears on beef and dairy to signify that the animals were raised without hormones which are used to make animals gain weight and increase milk production. Food labeled no hormones cost more than the conventional products. If you don't find this label then go for organic. Although experts are yet to come up in support.

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