Battle of bulge: Read food labels right

Chief dietician at Max Healthcare points out the trap most of us fall into while reading a food label.


Ians June 01, 2011

Wondering why all your gym sessions and health food are not making any difference to your expanding waistline? The problem may be your reading skills!

Experts say that getting the true meaning of food labels and culling precise facts from them is often the difference between flab and fit.

Ritika Samaddar, chief dietician at Max Healthcare, points out the trap most of us fall into while reading a food label.

"You will find the serving information listed right at the top of the nutrition facts label in any product. This is where the people are misled, because they assume the information given is for the entire product and they end up happily finishing it," Samaddar told IANS.

Explaining this, Samaddar said: "Take your regular 'namkeen bhujia' packet. It says in a serving there are 56 calories and per serving is equal to one tablespoon or 20 grams. But if you are eating the entire packet, which is 400 gms, you will end up eating 1,120 calories!"

"So this is where reading a food label smartly is applied. A lot many people are deceived by this and it is a common problem," she added.

Water is the only true zero calorie food that occurs naturally; so food items that label themselves as "less trans fat, less calories or zero-calories" are deceptive and misleading.

"For the marketing people, they will talk about their product in such a manner that it looks appealing to the consumers. So we can't blame them. The average consumer needs to be on guard against preservatives, added fat, colourings and calories in the label," said nutrition consultant Geetu Amarnani.

Samaddar also points out that reading the calories count on the food label is just one part of the process; one also has to understand the source of these calories.

"For any person who is aiming to lose weight, the best sequence is to follow a diet high on protein, then carbohydrates and then fats. But again, one has to see whether the carbs are coming from simple sugar or complex sugar?" she said.

"Complex sugar takes time to be absorbed by the body, whereas simple sugar is absorbed quickly, hence one puts on weight. Well, we don't expect people to know so much complexities, but one has to know these things as our nation is battling obesity," she added.

So how can one get educated on this?

"While you meet a nutritionist, don't just ask them about diet plans or what to eat, insist on knowing how to read food labels," she said.

VLCC Health Care Ltd's head of preventive health care Anju Ghei said while one shouldn't avoid outside food altogether, knowing what you are eating is vital.

"We believe fitness is a state of mind and one should not count calories all the time. We educate our clients on how smartly they can choose options from the menu while dining outside as we believe one can't stay away from eating outside.

"We also teach them how to read food labels, because this is from where uncounted calories come in picture," Ghei told IANS.

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