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The question I would like to discuss with you today is “What is the right way to read food packaging?”. This one might not be one of the most popular questions out there, but it sure is a good thing to know to help us be more mindful of what we eat and ensure a great diet. My whole life, I have been very passionate about food. Well, not in the “I can eat anything” kind of way, although, sometimes it is. But, more in the “I want to understand how food is made and the impact towards human nutrition” kind of way. However, most people haven’t realized that food literacy and safety measures are not just for the passionate ones like me. It is for everyone. Everyone needs to know what they are putting into their body, and work towards avoiding consuming something that may bear a bad impact on our bodies. And since packaged foods are literally everywhere now, everyone has to know how to read food labels. Fortunately, for this episode, I can use some of the knowledge I have gained from being a working practitioner in Food Technology to help you develop a basic literacy on food labels.

So, I assume at this point not all of you are familiar yet with how to read and understand food labels. If you are not yet used to taking a look at the packaging of food that you are about to eat, I would suggest you first make a habit of reading at least the basic section, which is the Nutrition Facts. Basically, here you can see everything that you will be gaining from the food. Now since there are a lot of rows in the Nutrition Facts, and some of them might come with weird spelling, focusing on the essential parts is actually more than enough. This includes: total calories, calories per serving and the three macronutrients, which are carbohydrate, protein and fat. Especially if you are just starting to track your dietary food intake, then these metrics alone are sufficient to give you an idea of achieving dietary balance. 

The macronutrients are pretty straightforward. But, a lot of questions may rise regarding calorie intake. You may ask, “what level of calories in food that is deemed to be standard or normal?”, “Is 200 calories considered high?”, or “Damn, my 30-minute workout can only burn 300 calories. Does it mean that I should start avoiding food that has more than 300 calories?” I feel like I need to tell you that calorie numbers in food are not meant to be looked at individually. Average human body can burn up to more than 2000 calories per day, so eating 300 calories of food is actually just fine. What matters is that by being aware of the calories in each of your food, you can calculate the total calories that you have eaten in a day. And once you think you have reached the limit, then you can think of putting that food you are holding back to its shelf.

Other than Nutrition Facts, it’s almost as important to understand the raw ingredients that were used to create the food. Again, same as Nutrition Facts, you don’t need to read and understand all of the ingredients listed on the packaging. For starters, you can train yourself to spot the most important kind of ingredients, and perhaps learn some basic info about it. It is called food additives. Now, food additives are present in multiple categories, and there are probably thousands of approved food additives out there. It is impossible to remember all of them. Luckily, most packaged foods use the same kinds of food additives that these additives have become popular even to the common ears. Some examples include MSG, ascorbic acid, sodium nitrate or benzoate. You don’t have to worry about these ones. But, when you spot any other unconventional additives in the ingredients other than these ones, then it might not hurt to do a little research about them. What’s most important is to take a look at its ADI, which is Acceptable Daily Intake. All approved food additives have this. The higher the ADI is, the less you have to worry, as long as you are not consuming it in excessive amounts.

Last but not least, it is highly crucial to ensure our own safety upon consuming any food. Therefore, information on safety and quality assurance are also the ones that you need to spot on every food packaging. This includes registration numbers, claims, and expiry date. Never buy a packaged food without registration and expiry date. Except if it is sold by someone close who you believe won’t do you harm. While for claims, you just need to use common sense to assess every positive and negative claims that are written on the packaging. For this part, you need to go back to the ingredients and nutrition facts and do a cross-check. If it claims to be 100% organic, then verify the claim based on the list of ingredients. Same as claims on allergens and precautions. Easy, but hard to make a habit out of it.

So, are you ready to be more mindful of what you eat? I would love to hear what you think! Shoot me an email at dannis@lifeforexperts.com. Or, connect with me through my website in LifeForExperts.com, my Twitter in @lifeforexperts, or my Instagram in @lifeforexpert without the letter “s” at the end.

Thank you for trusting Life For Experts. Never stop learning to become an expert in life. I’m Dannis, and I will see you next time. Bye!

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