Lessons From the Noodle Mess: Read Before You Eat!

You don’t need a PhD to cut through the food labelling jargon. Here is a fool-proof guide

Updated
Health News
4 min read
We are buying packaged foods more than ever before, so it’s time that we got to know what we’re consuming (Photo: iStock)

Maggi had its successful ghar wapsi even as Baba Ramdev’s atta noodles are in a fresh soup!

Now whatever the outcome of the tussle between Ramdev’s brand new noodles and the Food Safety Authorities, the muddle has given us enough reasons to brood on the stuff that packaged food is made up of.

Food labelling guidelines are in infancy in India and companies are here to exploit this weak system. No wonder, a trip to the supermarket feels like a food label term test!

So let’s play Sherlock and decode the food labels:

Decoding Food Labels

‘Low fat’, ‘Reduced Fat’, ‘Light’! Tricky, right?

Now you don’t need a PhD to see through this kind of food jargon. Let’s dig a little bit deeper into food labels.

Trans Fat Free:

Don’t fall for the labels, it can be a trap! (Photo: iStock)
Don’t fall for the labels, it can be a trap! (Photo: iStock)

Beware! These ugly fats reduce your good cholesterol and shoot up your bad cholesterol increasing your chances of a heart attack.

Food marketers can use this label as long as the food contains less than 1gm of trans fats per serving. So if you are over-indulging on a bowl of ‘trans-fat free’ namkeen with your chai, you could be attacking your heart with 4gms of transfat. Not good.

Wheat Flour:

Is “brown” bread whole-grain? Only at times. Scan through the ingredient list carefully for the percentage of whole wheat and wheat flour (Photo: iStock)
Is “brown” bread whole-grain? Only at times. Scan through the ingredient list carefully for the percentage of whole wheat and wheat flour (Photo: iStock)

‘Wheat Flour’ sounds wholesome, right? Turns out it is a code for ‘maida’!

Shocked?

Well, ‘Whole Wheat Flour’ is ‘atta’ , ‘Processed Wheat Flour’ means that the grain has been mostly stripped off its nutrients and contains twice the number of calories as compared to unprocessed foods.

So when you buy your breads be careful to weigh the whole wheat percentage against the wheat flour.

High Fiber:

This label means that there has to be more than 5gms/ serving. However, it’s important to read the ingredient list to understand where the fiber is actually coming from. Remember the best kind of fiber come from fruits and vegetables. Anything from artificial sources, keep it back in the rack and don’t fall for the hype.

Sugar Free:

Food companies can use any of these terms for sugar: Brown sugar, Invert Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup, Agave Nectar, Honey, Sucrose, Evaporated cane juice, and High-fructose corn syrup (Photo: iStock)
Food companies can use any of these terms for sugar: Brown sugar, Invert Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup, Agave Nectar, Honey, Sucrose, Evaporated cane juice, and High-fructose corn syrup (Photo: iStock)

Sugar free Or “made with real fruit” - you find these labels everywhere! From fruit juices to yoghurts but neither are these products made from real fruit nor are they healthy.

Mostly it means the sugar is replaced with artificial sweeteners. Although these sweeteners don’t contain many calories, most of them are basically sweetened chemicals and could potentially be more harmful to you than sugar. Read carefully if the sugar product contains a “natural sugar” like stevia which comes from a plant.

Organic:

Organic is not always 100% natural but it’s your safest best (Photo: iStock)
Organic is not always 100% natural but it’s your safest best (Photo: iStock)

Think organic, think healthy? Well, organic is the new fad but the label doesn’t guarantee a 100% pure product.

Food companies can exploit this label as long as the food is 90% organic and not grown with pesticides or genetically modified. So these are the safest products.

In a perfect world, everyone should go organic, but given the budgets and reality it might not be possible

Keep In Mind

(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Don’t go for flashy labels: Studies have shown that consumers put 33% more money on a food which comes with big, bright labels.

Look for more: Rule of thumb, the first item on the ingredient list is present in the maximum quantity in the product. If you’re going bonkers trying to figure out the sugar or preservative amount, look to the back; the earlier it comes in the list, the more of it is there in the food.

Serving size: Nutrition labels are given for one serving. So, remember to multiply that by the number of servings to check how much you will actually end up eating.

Fine print matters. So put on your glasses and read that text reaallyyy small in size which the company doesn’t want you to read!

Also Read: How to Read a Medicine Label like a Boss

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