Article written by Sara Silva, from the No Footprint Nomads project.

How to read product labels?

Why should you read labels?

We are constantly bombarded with information. When we go to the supermarket, the packaging appeals to the senses: its shapes and colors, the words that promise a miracle. Therefore, it is important to know how to interpret the information on the label – it helps us, consumers, to make informed and healthier decisions.

Despite the importance of the food label for healthy eating, 40% of participants in a Portuguese study confessed that they did not know how to interpret it. However, 76% of respondents said they use the label to learn more about the nutritional aspects of food.

The advantages of reading the label are not limited to the nutritional information that allows healthier choices. They also include ensuring consumer safety because the label lists the ingredients, the allergens, the expiration date, and the storage conditions, among others.

 How to read the nutritional information!

The food label includes a nutritional table, usually on the back of the package, where it is mandatory by law to include:

. Energy value – In kilocalories (kcal) or kilojoules (kj), it is the amount of energy that the food provides. The diet of a healthy adult should be around 2000 kcal, according to official recommendations.

. Lipids (fats) and saturated fatty acids (saturated fats) – Saturated fats should be avoided as they contribute to heart disease.

. Carbohydrates and sugars (sucrose) – They give energy to our body but sugars should be avoided. If the ingredient list contains sugar, honey, syrup…, care should be taken when consuming these foods.

. Proteins – present mainly in meats, dairy products, beans, and grains.

. Salt (sodium) – excess salt in the diet should be avoided.

Other ways to read the nutritional information

Some packages also include nutritional information based on daily reference values ​​(VDR). This representation indicates the amounts of fats (lipids), saturated fats, sugar, and salt per serving of food. These are components that must be consumed in small quantities for a healthy diet.

In the photo, you can see the label of a package of rice. The label indicates that a portion of rice (which equals 70g) contains very little sugars, fats, and salt. To reach this conclusion, I used the Label Decoder that you can print from the DGS / PNPAS Nutriment website. The decoder refers to the values ​​per 100g of food but, considering that the portion of rice is close to this value, I can quickly conclude that all undesirable components are in low quantities, which makes rice a healthy option to be included in the diet.

Below the blue squares, you can also see percentages. These correspond to the proportion with which these components contribute to the daily reference values. For example, 70g of rice provides 12% of the total energy that healthy adults should consume in a day.

With the label decoder it is possible to choose healthier and less caloric foods. It also helps us to pay more attention to portions and calories, which allows us to be more aware of the amounts we eat.

Of course, there is no need to use the decoder every time you look at a label, but it can be useful to confirm that a food that you claim to be healthy really is.

How to read the list of ingredients!

The list of ingredients is also useful for choosing healthier and safer. The ingredients are in descending order of weight, that is, what appears at the beginning of the list is what is present in greater quantity. If at the top of the list is sugar, fat, or salt, it is best not to buy this product or consume it occasionally.

There are certain ingredients that can cause allergies. In the list, you can see the ingredients in bold or different colors. Examples are milk, gluten, soy, or peanuts. If you are allergic to any of these components, looking at the list of ingredients is essential for your safety.


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