Food packages are packed these days with many claims — that their contents are fibre-rich or contain no trans fats or are cholesterol free. But what do they really mean? And which ones can you trust? Food literacy is important in decoding food labels and making sure that the foods you choose are healthy.
Consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious, and many food companies are doing whatever they can to make their products seem healthier. And if you don't know how to read food labels, it can be hard to know how healthy they really are. There could be something in the complex list of nutritional facts and compositions that you might not be able to recognize. While you might know some basics, what's in your food affects your daily life, and it's worth learning more about.
How Food Literacy Helps
In a 2014 study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, about 81 percent of grocery store shoppers in two major metropolitan cities in India who bought prepackaged food only looked at the manufacture and expiry dates on the food labels. They said that they found the information too technical to understand or that they lacked the knowledge.
In short, food literacy is how much you know about your food — how it grows, how it affects your health, the environment, and the economy. While many people have a superficial knowledge of food, their lack of knowledge about the fine print on packaged foods can affect their ability to make healthy diet decisions. An unhealthy diet, the World Health Organization says, is one of the major risk factors for a range of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other conditions linked to obesity.
By making healthier foods and decisions a part of your routine, you can help set yourself up for better health over the long term.
And being food literate is not only beneficial for you, but also for the next generation. A well-informed parent will instill these healthy food habits into their children and ensure that they grow into healthy adults.
Developing Your Food Literacy
Various health societies and organizations have initiated programs to help explain nutrition facts, food acronyms and product labelling to the public in efforts to increase food literacy. By familiarizing yourself with the basics, you can learn how to read food labels and suss out what is and isn't reliable information.
- Start with the serving size, which is usually at the top of the food label. Compare the suggested serving size with how much you eat. If you're eating twice the serving size, you're getting twice the calories — and twice the fat and other nutrients listed.
- Check the percent daily value of each nutrient. Remember that these values are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack. Try to stay low in nutrients like fat and sodium (which can be especially troublesome if you have high blood pressure or diabetes), and high in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Check out the nutrition terms, too. The U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a handy list of what common nutrition terms mean. For instance, foods described as low-calorie have fewer than 40 calories per serving, and anything that's listed as high in a particular nutrient has more 20 percent of the recommended daily value.
- When eating out, scan the menu for healthy options. You can also ask the chef make healthier substitutions as per your preferences.
Depending on your health status and goals, you might need different quantities of the nutrients essential for good health. It is always best to seek professional advice when deciding on dietary plans, especially if you have any concerns.
Knowledge is power, and that applies to food as well. The more you know about your food, the better choices you can make and the healthier you can be.
Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.