Could reading food labels keep you thin?

Women who read food labels weigh nearly 9 pounds less than women who didn't read labels, a researcher in Spain said.

In general, the women who consulted labels were 1.49 points lower on their Body Mass Index (BMI) count.

Some 25,640 observations were collected on health, eating and shopping habits in the survey by lead author Maria Loureiro of the University of Santiago de Compostela and colleagues at the University of Tennessee, the University of Arkansas and the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural Finance Research.

The survey used data from the annual National Health Interview Survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, published in Agricultural Economics journal, also found that more women read labels than men - where ;74 per cent of women either habitually or always read the information on food packets, and only 58 per cent of men do the same.

In addition, smokers paid much less attention to label information.

Professor Loureiro hypothised that smokers opt for a less healthy life in general, and as a consequence, are not so worried about the nutritional content of the food they eat.

"We know that this information can be used as a mechanism to prevent obesity," Loureiro said in a statement.

"Campaigns and public policy can be designed to promote the use of nutritional labeling on menus at restaurants and other public establishments for the benefit of those who usually eat out."

The second page onwards of this article was taken from The Star/Asia News Network.

Decoding the label

A nutrition label, or nutrition information panel (NIP), is a table found on the label of a packaged food, showing the amount of energy, carbohydrate, protein, and fat in the product.

For some foods, the vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients may also be listed. It can be considered as an indicator of the nutritional quality of a specific food product.

Nutrition labelling encourages consumers to use sound nutrition principles in the selection of food and preparation of meals.

As a parent, understanding what all that information means will help you make healthier food choices for your child. In turn, it helps to meet his nutritional needs, while limiting the amount of unnecessary fat and sugar in his diet.

Always read nutrition labels even if you have bought the same food item before, as manufacturing formulations and methods may have changed over time.

In addition to the NIP, you will also find a list of ingredients on each packaged food. The ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount contained in the food.

As shown in the example below, the highest content in this product is cereals (wholemeal wheat, rice, corn), followed by sugar, maltodextrin, mixed fruits, etc.

INGREDIENTS: Cereals (wholemeal wheat, rice, corn), sugar, maltodextrin, mixed fruits (apple pieces and raisins), malt extract (barley), minerals, salt, red beet powder, vitamins, contains permitted anticaking agent, stabiliser, contains permitted flavouring substance, all additives are plant or synthetic origin, traces of soya and milk.

Always check the ingredient list! Reading the ingredient list is also important if your child is allergic to one or more types of food components.

Finding out what a food product contains helps you to avoid giving your child the offending food.

If you are a vegetarian, by checking the ingredients, you can find out whether they are from animal or plant sources.

When in doubt, call the manufacturer to get a full picture of the products.

Using the information

As a parent of a growing and active child, you want to make sure the foods you feed him are able to meet his daily energy and nutritional needs.

By studying the nutrient listing and the amount of nutrients per serving of a particular food product, you are able to estimate how much the food can contribute to your child's total daily intake.

You can use this information as a guide in making smart food choices to plan healthy and balanced meals for your child. Here are some practical tips to follow.

1. Never buy a food just because you like its packaging. Always remember that expensive food products are not necessarily better or healthier and compare products by reading the NIP.

2. When you compare the nutritional content among different brands of a similar product, you can find out which ones are higher or lower in certain nutrients.

3. Remember to compare based on amount of nutrient per 100g or 100ml of the product. Serving size may not be suitable for comparison as it may differ between brands.

4. In addition, don't make your decision to purchase a particular brand based on one nutrient alone (eg energy or fat content), but to consider the other nutrients (eg protein or calcium content) listed on the NIP as well.

Interpreting the claims wisely

Don't get carried away with all the claims that you read on food labels. For instance, a product that is highlighted to be "low in fat" may be high in sugar, while one with a "cholesterol-free" claim may contain high amounts of other types of fat.

How would you make a better decision based on the claim? Simple, read the nutrition labels.

Parents could use all such information to help plan their children's daily diet, making sure that their nutrient requirements are met while excessive fat and sugar intake can be avoided.

In short, there is a wealth of information in a nutrition label that can be beneficial to your child's health. Start reading labels when you shop for foods. The more you practise, the better you will become in using them as a tool for planning well-balanced and nutritious meals for your little one.

If you need further guidance on the appropriate use of nutrition labels, the best person to talk to is a nutritionist or dietitian.

This second page onwards of this article was taken from The Star/Asia News Network.

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