Read, Before You Eat ..!!

Beware! Some people are out there tricking you. Let's begin by how a small incident made me ponder over the importance of reading, before eating. Avika and I are “grocery friends”. Yes, little strange is this friendship status but then that’s what we mostly do together. When our hubbies are off to offices and children in schools, we usually meet up after finishing our daily household chores over a cup of coffee or head out to do grocery in nearby supermarket. During one such visit, I noticed Avika filling her shopping cart with huge packs of cheese blocks, large bottles of mayonnaise, lots of canned juices and other such sinful stuff. Considering her 2XL size and all the hue and cry about her ever increasing weight, I was appalled to see her careless indulgence in those “high-on-calorie” goodies. When I raised a questionable brow on this, in the most unbashful manner she said, “Oh, chill dear, I always pick the “light”, “fat-free”, and “sugar-free” varieties of these things. I am sure they won’t make me any fatter”. This little episode made me apprehend the significance of understanding the “label lingo” of food items. Reading labels on food stuff is very important but reading between the lines is imperative. Food and beverage manufacturing companies flash fancy jargons on their food labels to lure you into buying them. Like, fat-free doesn’t mean zero fat or no-calorie is not actually “no calorie”. You have no idea if you are really eating what you are reading. Healthy not always necessarily means “healthful“. Let me walk you through how to decode the label lingo?
Image courtesy: What actually the labels on food items mean? On all packaged food product, apart from the ingredient list and nutrition information, there are certain other “fancy” terms written on the labels that often catches our eyes. Don’t get tricked by such alluring adjectives. Here’s is a little list of “what means what?” No fat or fat free - less than 0.5 g of fat Lower or reduced fat - 25% less fat than the original food Low-fat - less than 3 g of fat Light or lite - 1/3 of the calories or half the fat of the original food No calorie/calorie free - less than 5 calories Low calorie - less than 1/3 rd calories of the original food Sugar free - less than 0.5 g of sugar Reduced sugar - 25% less sugar than original food No preservatives added - no added chemical preservatives, however, natural preservatives like salt or vinegar may be present Low sodium - less than 140 mg of sodium No salt or salt free - less than 5 mg of sodium High fiber - 5 g or more fiber Good source of fiber - 2.5 g to 4.9 g fiber More or added fiber - 2.5 g more fiber than original food *all the values are per serving
Image courtesy: Now, another ignorant area is drinks. Labels on fruit juices can be tricky and extremely confusing for the buyer. It is important to understand how much “real” fruit is present in a particular fruit juice. Understand what it means, when it says, Fruit Drink: Fruit drinks have less to do with being the “real fruit juice”. These contain only 5% of the real fruit juice and the rest is water, sugar, and artificial flavourings and colourings. Sugar-Free Juice: This means no additional sugar is added to the juice. But don’t forget, real juices too have their own sugar. Hence, diabetics be careful of the quantity to consume and weight watchers should not take sugar-free as calorie-free. 100 % vitamin C: This means that the beverage is a fruit drink with artificial vitamin C (ascorbic acid) added to it. 100 % Fruit Juice: Juice is 100% natural with no added sugar or flavourings. Flavoured Fruit Juice: There is nothing REAL in these. They are only artificially flavoured drinks of a particular fruit and are loaded with sugar. Understand the unsaid See red when you read the “glorified” names of certain things which companies want to hide intentionally. Try to avoid food items which read as below if you are looking for some pure, fresh and HEALTHY food.
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  • “Fortified”, “extra”, “added”, “enriched”, and “plus” usually means that the food has been processed or altered in some way or the other.
  • “Enriched flour” or “unbleached wheat flour” politely refers to as “refined flour” with little amount of whole wheat left to it.
  • “Partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil” is a hidden code word for Trans fats. Trans fats are synthetically manufactured, unnatural fats and are not considered very healthy.
  • “Nitrates” are used to preserve meat products but they are also known to cause cancer. It is found mostly in bacon and luncheon meat.
  • “High fructose corn syrup” is a fancy term used for refined sugar.
  • “Lard shortening” is animal fat.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a form of sodium.
Ingredients “In Disguise” Sometimes fats, sugars, and sodium are hidden in the food products by various other names and forms other than their “usual” ones. Think “SUGAR” when you read Honey, sucrose, malt, fructose, dextrose, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, glucose syrup, corn syrup, or golden syrup. Think “FAT” when you read butter, margarine, lard, shortening, vegetable oil, full cream milk powder, or mono-, di-, or triglycerides. Think “SALT” when you read Sodium chloride, yeast extract, soy sauce, or MSG. It is only natural for a layman not to understand the highly technical stuff that is written in an ingredient list but to avoid going wrong and getting confused, stay away (if you can) of products which have a long list of artificial and difficult sounding ingredients. Stick with food items which says they are made from “whole foods” (like whole grains), with little or no added preservatives or colouring, and definitely no Trans fats! Phew!! So much to remember but it is every bit worth to become a smart shopper and decode the tricky lingo used by packaged food and drink manufacturers. Moral of the story: Become a pro in label reading and act like one too, next time you do grocery!!

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