Friday, 19 May 2017

Food Labels... Do You Ever Read Them?

Many years ago...

Holding a packet of food in my hand at the supermarket and scrutinising it, B asked, "What are you looking at?"

"Labels!"  I replied.  He looked at me, bewildered.

Fast forward to today, both of us look at food labels.  And here we are, trying to teach the boys, especially the older one to do it too.

Yes, I am a control freak with certain stuff, in some sense.

I love reading food labels.  Standing along the aisle of supermarkets while shopping (now you know why I adore supermarkets and can spend lots of time there), I read the food labels of food that I am intending to buy.  Sometimes I am convinced to buy them.  Sometimes I put them back.

In Singapore, we actually have a pretty transparent system on food labelling.  I have no idea about other countries but I suppose most developed countries will probably have a similar system (don't quote me for that though!).

The labelling guidelines is governed by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and so much information can be found here.

If you do not know, all pre-packed food products for sale in Singapore must be labelled according to the general labelling requirements of the Singapore Food Regulations.  Based on my few years of limited knowledge and research, here's what I know in layman terms:

Food for sale in Singapore must be labelled with basic information such as name of food, ingredients, net content and source.  I guess we all know about the source information as I know many who check on where the food item is made in or manufactured in.

Two things that I often look at but many do not know are as follows:

1. The ingredients and additives used in all food products must be listed in descending order of the proportions by weight in which they are present.

2.  If nutrition claims or permitted health claims are made for pre-packed foods, nutrition labelling is required.  Information declared in the panel must include the energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate contents of the food.  Nutrients must be declared too.

Taking the following as an example, we all can know then what are the main ingredients.

I get very concerned with food labels because I am interested to know what goes into the food that I am buying and what I am eating or feeding my family.  Many times, we realise that the first ingredient in a pre-packed food is sugar.  And we know how much harm too much sugar can cause.

Apart from looking at the ingredient list, we particularly look at the "sugars" content shown in the nutrition information.  Probably it is difficult to visualise the amount of sugars in grams but when it is converted to the number of teaspoons, it is easily understood.  Let me tell you that for the amount of sugars in grams you see stated, divide it by 4.  That's the number of teaspoons of sugar.  And yes, I can see that jaw dropped.

Now, I am not a dietician or a nutritionist.  Not any expert, really.  Just an individual who takes an interest into such.  But when I see a drink marketed as a healthy drink as follows, I get kind of upset.  Sugar as the number 1 ingredient.  Wow.  

My boys and I take sweets and chocolates too and I am not trying to present ourselves as "only eating the healthy stuff" family, but at least, again, I know what I am feeding the family.  And really, it is through being aware that we try to make little changes to our lifestyle, hopefully for the better.

Disclosure: Again, I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietician or any professional related to  this field.  What is stated are my personal opinions.  I agree to disagree.  :)

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