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Do you read food labels? You do, without even realising it. One of the most useful item of information on the label of a packaged food product is the name of the product. This tells you what is in the can or box you are considering buying. There are a lot more useful information on labels. Here is what you should look for on them.

INFORMATION ON FOOD LABELS IS CONTROLLED BY LAW
Manufacturers have to supply certain information, and there are limits on claims that can be made. Some manufacturers will stretch the truth a bit, and may make claims that are within legal boundaries, but are more part of a sales pitch than a realistic product description. It is in your interests to learn how to find the information you need and recognise the sales pitch.

An example of a product that has a truthful but misleading statement on the label is that of pure fruit juices that are labelled “No sugar added”. It is true that these foods do not have added refined sugar, but that does not mean that they are low in sugar content. A pure fruit juice has more sugar than a carbonated cold drink; the sugar comes from the fruit in the juice. This is why people who are managing their body weight cannot consume fruit juice in large amounts.

INFORMATION THAT IS MANDATORY INCLUDES

  • the name of the product
  • the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor
  • instructions for use when needed
  • list of ingredients and
  • special storage conditions

Knowing the name and address of the manufacturer (or a call centre number) gives you the opportunity to communicate with them if needed. If you have a problem or a question you can contact the manufacturer and have your query answered by their experts.

The list of ingredients is written in descending order of quantity. This means that the first ingredient listed is found in the largest quantity in the food. Use this list to look for ingredients you may wish to limit or avoid in your eating plan.

This list can also give you a clue as to how much of a particular ingredient you will find in a product. For example if you compare two products like mushroom soup, mushrooms may be listed first in one product but only fourth in another.

Pay attention to the information on special storage conditions, adhering to the manufacturers advice will help to protect you from eating food that is no longer safe.

More and more food products now print a nutrition information label on the package supplying basic nutrient information. This part of the food label is useful if you want to compare two similar food products or learn more about one specific product. For example, you may compare the fibre content of two different breakfast cereals by looking at the amount of fibre in 100g of each of them. You can then determine how much fibre is in a serving of the one you choose by looking at the amount listed in the ‘per serving’ column.

Paying attention to information on food labels can make you an informed consumer and help you to make the best food choices from the food available to you.

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