Does Reading Nutrition Labels Improve Health?


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Have you ever looked at a nutrition label and felt unsure of what you were looking at?

If so, you’re not the only one.

Maybe you were confused by the terminology (“what does ‘of which saturates’ mean?”) or maybe the amount you’re eating per portion (“how many calories does the slice I cut contain”?).

In this first part of our InstaHealth series, we are going to start answering your burning questions about nutrition labels… before you even need to ask!

So, let’s start with an important question:

Why do food labels exist?

Well, they give us consumers the ability to judge the nutritional value of the food before purchasing it.

Without them, we’d have no idea what we’re really consuming!

Most people are concerned about their weight, so the first thing they look for on food labels is the amount of calories contained within.

Can you spot the word “calories” in the nutritional label above?

Not straightforward, right?

“Calories” is nowhere to be seen.

In the UK, calories are instead listed as “Energy”. And calories, as we understand them, are written as kcal (1 calorie = 1 kcal).

But food labels don’t just tell us about the calories contained in foods.

They also give us other information, such as macronutrient content.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the fuel that we need daily, to support our body´s functions by supplying us with energy.

The three macronutrients are:

    • Carbohydrates
    • Proteins
    • Fats

You can see where each of these macronutrients are located in the US food label on the right (we circled them for you).

“People who can read and understand nutrition labels, tend to choose healthier options, which can equate to increased wellbeing.”

Labels Abroad

Have you ever been abroad, walked into a store, and thought “this looks different…”?

Well, it’s not just the store that’s different. Nutrition labels are different in different parts of the world!

For example, if you were in the UK and looked at a label, it might be something like this:

While in the US, it could look like this:

And in China it may be something like this:

Can you spot some of the similarities between the three labels?

If not, don’t worry. We’ve circled some of them for you, down below.

Regardless of the country of origin, the food labels include the 3 macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate, and protein.

What about the biggest difference between the three labels?

Here’s a hint:

In the UK and in China, food labels use the word energy, whereas the US label simply states “calories”.

Another difference is that the Chinese label only shows the energy in food as calories (kcal). Whereas the UK one not only shows energy in calories (kcal), but also in Kilojoules (kJ).

In upcoming posts, we’ll explore macronutrients and calories in more detail.

But for now, think about this… Why do we eat? What causes you to make the food choices that you do? Curious for the answers? Find out here.

 

 

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The-Health-Sciences-Academy-Alejandra-Ruani-small1-right Alejandra "Alex" Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for their students. She is a Harvard-trained scientist and UCL doctoral researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups.

Connect with Alex via email.


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11 Comments

  • Dr J Smith

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    This is helpful to explain to my patients who are often confused.Look fwd to the next articles.thx

  • Alicia

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Great read! Looking forward to your next posts about this!

  • Resshel Ann Villamonte

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Thanks for the science!

  • Ashlee Evans

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    I find this article very helpful and informative. Looking forward to the next ones!

  • Claire DiLaurentis

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Excellent article! Reading labels has helped me a lot in improving my health and knowing what will go inside my body and how much I should have. It is basically my manual on how much to have and when to stop.

  • Maria

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Yes I must agree it can be overwhelming figuring out these labels — there is always this few seconds confusion pause until I figure out what’s what! Thanks a lot, very helpful! Looking forward to the upcoming parts of this series!!

  • Lou

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Awesome!

  • Marissa Samuels

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Thanks for this! I’m always confused about labels and what they mean. And the calculations are tough to really figure out what I’m eating.

    Looking forward to your future posts!

  • Lordino

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    New knowledge added, thank you for this information!

  • Cory

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    I travel to the UK from the USA sometimes. And I always get confused with the 100gram on the labels. Is 100grams a serving size? I prefer the USA system where I can see how many calories is in 1 serving.

  • Ken

    Reply Reply October 2, 2018

    Very informative post. Now I learn something new :)

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