When it comes to losing weight or seeing things from the general perspective of health, the standardized tables of nutrition information that you find on food labels is an indisputable asset. And when you compare products with each other, you often can make very surprising discoveries.
In terms of marketing, commercials, packaging and large print are designed to provoke an impulsive purchase, or a purchase already influenced by advertising. The fact is, though, the more the picture of a food product is one that is neat and appealing – the more the packaging is flashy – the more appealing its promotion, the more likely it is to disappear from shelves.
People on special diets, have allergies, or are searching for particular nutrients are generally more vigilant. One of the best habits to have when it comes to looking at things from the perspective of health, is to question whether the commercial or market value of a product can compare its nutritional quality.
Purchasing Images and Brands of Packaging
In the food industry, finding effective ways to stimulate demand and to outpace competitors is constant. The messages “0 trans fat,” “Omega”, “whole grain”, “natural,” “sugar free”, “freshness”, “quality ingredients” that you find printed on packaging grab more consumers.
The product brand also has a significant impact for many brand addicts. The symbolic power of a brand is reinforced through advertising, to convince people of the product’s superiority, and to justify its price.
The quality of food in such a context will not be perceived in terms of its nutritional value, but its image and brand. In the United States, the annual investment for the integration of brands in the media increased from $190 million in 1974 to $3.46 billion in 2004.
House brands, more economical to purchase, are often those produced by national brands. The price gap is further justified by the reduction in sales margins given by the manufacturer to the distributor’s economic output.
Read the Fine Print Packaging
With advances in genetics, fragmentation and reconstitution of generic elements, intermediaries facilitate the replacement of raw materials by others. Thus, oil and butter are replaced by other fats, and sugar with sweeteners.
Preservatives, additives, colorings, and other flavorings are also contributing to the definition of food as more industrial than agricultural. The words “pure” and “natural” are often misleading.
We would like to believe that a product contains a high amount of fiber, fruit or vitamins, if it says on the box, but if the percentage of these is listed as being below 10%, it goes without saying that the allegation is false. The table behind the main packaging shows the nutritional content of calories and nutrients per serving size.
The Daily Percentage Value lists nutrients, lipids (fats), cholesterol, sodium (salt), carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals on a scale from 0% to 100%. If these values are missing, ingredients in the composition of a food product can be found in descending order of weight on the label.
The presence of GM food is more elusive. For those interested, Greenpeace regularly updates its lists (white and black) on its website greenpeace.org.
The Thin Choice Packaging
Good fats (unsaturated fats) such as non-hydrogenated margarine and most vegetable oils are good choices, rather than saturated and trans fats. But even a light product low in fat can contain enough calories to counteract the efforts invested in a diet. A dressing can contain up to 100 calories per tablespoon, you can easily make a salad wreck your entire diet like a bomb!
A product displaying “50% less fat” (or sugar, salt, and so on) is often compared to the original product of the same make and can have the same nutritional value as the original version of another brand. Finally, the term “light” can also be attributed to the texture, taste or flavor of the food. In order to lose weight, reading labels is certainly one of the best strategies.
The Nutrition Facts table “provides information on calories and nutrients”, but it is essential to consider the serving size that you consume. Thus, a serving of cereal equivalent to 50 ml (1/4 cup) that provides less than 3 grams of fat is very small.
Claims labeled “no-” or “-free” actually mean “rather small” amounts of the item in question. Thus, “cholesterol-free” means the product contains less than 2 mg of it and is low in saturated fat, but is not necessarily fat.
The term “unsweetened” indicates that the product contains no artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame and sucralose), but may contain sugar substitutes (such as xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol) which have the potential to retain up to 85% of calories from an equivalent amount of real sugar.
Therefore, claims of “no added sugar” or “sugar-free” are more reliable, as the product will contain less than 0.5 g of sugar, per serving size. Some “-free” claims are sometimes surprising: cholesterol is present only in animal products, for example.
As for omega-3, experts recommend the amounts of 1.1 g for women and 1.6 g for men per day. Consider an egg as an example of Omega-3; as it contains just 0.4 g of the nutrient, it makes more sense to go for a fatty fish instead (which has up to 2.3 g per 100 g) or linseed oil (7.8 g per tablespoon), than looking for food products that contain a smaller amount, but are more expensive to buy.
If you love pizza, depending on the brand, the carbohydrate content can vary from 20% to 36%, fat from 3.2% to 19% and the caloric value of 170 to 340 kilocalories. This comparative example illustrates only that food labels remain the essential source of information.
5 Easy Steps to Choose the Right Food & Packaging:
- Check the serving size.
- Check the number of calories.
- Check daily intake (% daily value).
- Try to avoid high percentages of lipids (fats), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium.
Give preference to high percentages of the daily value for carbohydrates (complex sugars and not simple), fiber, vitamins and minerals.
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