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Hidden dangers of protein, spices, and sugar: How to carefully read product labels to pick the healthy foo – The Economic Times

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In the hustle and bustle of modern life, processed foods have become a convenient option for many. From ready-to-eat meals to nutrition products, different products line our shelves promising quick satisfaction. However, lurking beneath the appealing packaging are hidden dangers that can wreak havoc on our health.
India’s food and beverage (F&B) industry has undergone a significant change. It is crucial for businesses, policymakers, regulators, public health experts, and industry leaders to educate consumers about scientifically backed information. This is where the labelling of F&B products becomes vital in enabling consumers to make well-informed choices about their nutrition.

In the maze of product labels adorning packaged foods, deciphering the fine print can be daunting. However, mastering the art of reading labels is crucial for making informed and health-conscious choices. Here’s a guide on how to navigate product labels effectively:

Prioritize Ingredient Lists: The ingredient list is your window into the contents of the product. Look for foods with minimal ingredients, preferably those you recognize and can pronounce. Beware of lengthy ingredient lists laden with artificial additives, preservatives, and unrecognizable chemicals. Opt for products with whole food ingredients and avoid those with refined flours, hydrogenated oils, and high-fructose corn syrup.

Mindful of Serving Sizes: “Pay attention to the serving size indicated on the label, as it determines the nutritional content per serving. Manufacturers often manipulate serving sizes to downplay the calorie and sugar content of their products. Compare the serving size to your actual consumption to avoid unintentional overeating and excessive calorie intake,” Manjari Chandra functional nutritionist & nutritional medicine practitioner said.
Crack the Nutritional Code: Familiarize yourself with the nutritional information panel, focusing on key components such as calories, macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), fiber, and sugar. Aim for products with moderate calorie content, balanced macronutrient profiles, and high fiber content to promote satiety and sustained energy levels. Limit your intake of products high in saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars, as they contribute to adverse health outcomes.

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Watch Out for Sneaky Sugars: Sugar goes by many aliases, including high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, and dextrose. Be vigilant and scan the ingredient list for these hidden sugars, even in savory products like sauces, condiments, and canned goods. Choose products with no added sugars or those sweetened with natural alternatives like stevia, honey, or maple syrup in moderation.

“Excessive sugar consumption has become a concern, and consumers actively seek alternatives that align with their wellness goals. Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) or low and no calorie sweeteners (LNCS) play a unique role in addressing these concerns, particularly regarding obesity, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related ailments. LNCS products can assist consumers in reducing their sugar intake and managing their calorie consumption,” Nutritionist Manjari Chandra said.

Protein Puzzles: Protein is often celebrated as the building block of a healthy diet, essential for muscle growth and repair. However, in the realm of processed foods, the quality and quantity of protein can be deceptive. Many processed foods boast high protein content, but a closer look reveals the use of inferior sources such as soy protein isolate or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. These sources may lack the essential amino acids necessary for optimal bodily function.

“Moreover, excessive consumption of processed protein can burden the kidneys and liver, leading to long-term health complications. Additionally, processed meats, a common protein source in processed foods, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Hence, it’s crucial to scrutinize the protein content and sources in processed foods to make informed dietary choices,” Manjari Chandra said.

Spices: Flavorful, Yet Deceptive: Spices add zest and flavor to our meals, but in processed foods, they can serve as a double-edged sword. While natural spices offer health benefits and enhance the taste of dishes, processed food manufacturers often rely on artificial flavors and excessive sodium to mimic the taste of real spices.

High sodium content in processed foods not only contributes to hypertension and cardiovascular diseases but also masks the natural flavors of ingredients, leading to overconsumption. Moreover, artificial flavors and preservatives used in processed foods have been linked to allergic reactions and adverse health effects. Thus, it’s imperative to opt for minimally processed foods and read labels carefully to avoid hidden spice-related dangers.

Beware of Health Claims: Don’t be swayed by bold health claims plastered across packaging, such as “all-natural,” “low-fat,” or “gluten-free.” These claims can be misleading and often distract from the overall nutritional quality of the product. Instead, focus on the ingredients and nutritional information to gauge the true healthfulness of the product.

Consider the Source: Where possible, opt for locally sourced, organic, and sustainably produced foods. Organic certification ensures that products are free from synthetic pesticides, hormones, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promoting environmental sustainability and minimizing exposure to harmful chemicals.

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