Lama Abi Mosleh, food scientist and founder of Nutshell Peanut Butter, joined our Wellness Wednesday on Instagram Live on March 25th, 2021 to talk about food labels.
All the questions regarding food labels asked during the Live session are answered below. Let’s have a look!
(Q): What are food labels?
(A): Food impacts our general health. It nourishes us and gives us energy while treating and preventing certain diseases. Nowadays, especially after Covid-19, there was a spike of awareness over food as medicine. Healthy food helps the body while unhealthy food causes adverse health effects. It’s important to stay up to date and educated about this topic. Food labels give us information so we can make informed decisions regarding our food. They include key product information such as ingredients, Nutrition Facts, and allergens.
Q: Why are food labels important?
A: Food labels arm you with information and allow you to compare between products. They help you understand what a product truly is and what it contributes to your daily needs. You have people who look at the food label to look out for nutrients they need to increase in their diets. They want to know how much Vitamin D is in this product. You have athletes that want more protein in their diet so they get a product where the food labels claim that proteins in it outweigh the sugar.
Q: What should we look for on food labels?
A: Food labels are divided into categories: Nutrition Facts, Ingredient List, Storage condition and date, % Daily Value or RDI.
1. Nutrition Facts:
People look at food labels in different ways. Some people look at the nutrition facts table and then the ingredients, while others look the other way around. I recommend you always start with the ingredient list because you can quickly judge if the product is healthy or not just by a glance since the ingredients are listed in order of what’s most to least present in a product.
When looking at nutrition facts it’s also important to look at the serving size. It refers to the specific portion to which the nutrition facts apply to. All the components of the nutrition facts and all the information in that table refer to that serving size. Do not stop at calories when looking at nutrition facts because calories can come from healthy sources or from sugars and saturated fat. So you should always look at the source of those calories.
When eating fewer calories, you end up not having the energy to do anything because calories are fuel. Make sure to choose wholegrain carbs instead of refined carbs. Wholegrain is high in fiber whereas white rice has been stripped out of its fiber. It takes longer to be digested, makes you full for longer, and maintains your energy. Pasta does the same thing.
It is also important to look at the serving size as opposed to the total size of the package.
2. Ingredient List:
The first 3 ingredients are the most important to look at because they are the most abundant ones found in the product. If sugar is listed in the top 3, stay away. If you see that it’s at the end of a 10 ingredient list, it’s probably in a very small quantity.
Also, stay away from additives, artificial flavors, and food dyes. The more you choose natural ingredients, the better.
Make sure to look at sugar. When it comes to added sugar, it’s best to go for natural sweetness or unrefined sugar (honey, coconut sugar, unrefined cane sugar). They are added sugar but they are a better form of sweeteners than refined sugar. Products have naturally occurring sugars because they are naturally in the food itself.
People tend to be misled by certain labels or food types. For example, people think having a granola cereal bowl is healthy because it’s high in fiber. But it’s not necessarily the case, some store-bought granola are very high in sugar.
Allergen labels also very important because they declare the presence of the allergen in the manner described by the law.
3. Storage Condition & Date:
Another important thing to look at that people tend to forget about is the storage condition and date. Knowing how to store a product properly is so crucial. If you don’t see storage conditions listed on the box, make sure to reach out to the producer and ask. For example, you read on tomato sauces “Refrigerate after opening” or nut butters “Store in a cool and dry place”. What is meant here really is store in a cool and dry place because the temperature will affect the texture of the product.
Concerning dates, there are 3 different kinds of dates to look for:
- Best Before: This date is related to the quality of the product and when is best to consume the product for optimal freshness, for example.
- Expiration Date: This date relates to a specific month and year that are predetermined and after which the product should no longer be used for legal reasons or for exceeding its shelf life.
- Use By: This date indicates when a product may no longer be safe to eat. It is a strict deadline that you should not exceed.
4. % Daily Value or RDI:
We have to talk about the percent daily value because many people do not understand what it means. It defines how much of a nutrient is present in the serving. As a general guideline, 5% or below is considered low, 20% and above is considered high. % Daily Value is important because it shows you how much the serving contributes to your daily need or daily limit. You would rarely memorize the quantity needed for a certain nutrient so Daily Value is there to show you whether that nutrient is high or low.
When it comes to total fat, sodium, and sugar you should never aim for reaching 100% DV, you want it low. Whereas concerning nutrients as Calcium, vitamin D, etc., the higher the % DV per serving the better.
Q: What about food labels such as organic, sugar-free, and lactose-free?
A: Watch out for health claims! If something says organic, fat-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, or high in fiber, these health claims grab your attention and you think you are making the right purchasing decision because of them, but most of the time the product might not be as healthy as you think. Oatmeal raisin cookies may have a label ‘organic’, but have high sugar levels, which is not healthy. If you are looking just from an organic perspective, you can eat it. If you are trying to be healthy and eat clean, buying something that is high in sugar is not good for you.
These health claims are outweighed by the level of sugar or fat they have. Don’t look at the messaging. Check what the nutrition facts say about sugar content, sodium, saturated fat content and then decide whether you want this product or not.
That’s all folks! Thank you for joining us for this session and thank you to Lama Abi Mosleh for this valuable information. Stay tuned for more Wellness Wednesdays to come 💙.
If you have any questions or topic suggestions, feel free to reach out to the Mint Basil Market team.