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Are you a label junkie?

Can you tell if a product's claims are real or just hint at healthy? Find out if you're making smart decisions at the supermarket.

brunch Updated: Mar 29, 2014 20:48 IST
Kavita Devgan

Can you tell if a product's claims are real or just hint at healthy? Find out if you're making smart decisions at the supermarket.

1. So many potato chips, so little time! Are the baked ones healthier than the fried ones?
Yes/ No

2. You're trying to lose weight. The packet of instant noodles says it's '100% Fat-Free'. Do you still need to worry?
Yes/ No

3. You're shopping for a diabetic. As long as 'Sugar' is not listed as an ingredient, you're safe.

Yes/ No

4. Your favourite brand of fruit juice says 'No Added Sugar' on the pack. Does it still mean that it could be high in calories?
Yes/ No

5. The wrapper for wafer biscuits lists 'Total Fats'. Is all that you should check?
Yes/ No

6. Mentioning 'High Fibre' on a label is not good enough.
Yes/ No

7. It says 'Organic' on the label. That's my shortcut to knowing it's automatically good for me.
Yes/ No

8. There are hair oils that say they are made with "Real Ingredients". Should I be suspicious?
Yes/ No

9. You want a healthier breakfast. Those sachets of fruit-flavoured oats look so convenient. Are they really healthy?

Yes/ No

10. Health wise, the serving size on the back of the pack can often be misleading.
Yes/ No

11. If you had to choose between multigrain and whole grain,multigrain, by virtue of variety, is a better pick.

Yes/ No

12. Most packaged foods feature a 'Percentage of Daily Value' chart of its nutritional content. But that's just a generic guideline.
Yes/ No

13. You prefer your skincare to have 'Natural Ingredients' Neem in your face wash, honey in your shampoo, cocoa butter in your lotion, because they are safer for the skin.

Yes/ No

14. 'Hypoallergenic' products are still likely to trigger allergies and aren't a catchall term for safety.
Yes/ No

15. Fairness creams with a 'Money-back Guarantee', a shade card and regular releases of a 'New, Improved' formula are more serious about their products.
Yes/ No

We hope you picked No for all odd-numbered questions and Yes for even-numbered ones. Here's why:

In baked foods, other ingredients are often used in excess to replicate the taste that would have come from frying. A better strategy is to look up total calories and sugar content. Compare the total calories in baked chips (or chiwda) with regular. You might find only a marginal difference.

2 Zero fat usually means less than 0.5gm fat per serving (not really zero fat). Have more than one serving and the fat will pile up. Be careful of the term 'Low Fat' too. It only means a lower percentage of calories from fat. This does not automatically make these foods any healthier.

3 Watch out for hidden sugar. It's often disguised as evaporated cane juice, crystalline fructose, brown rice syrup, honey, fructose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, dextrose, dextrin, molasses, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate and sorghum.

4 A product that advertises 'No Added Sugar' can still contain too much natural sugar. If the food has a fruit, it'll have fructose. Calories are a sum of all the ingredients, so the item is still likely to be high in calories.

5 Looking at the 'Total Fat' content is not enough, it's the break up that matters. Look up heart- damaging cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats, and choose foods in which they're minimal.

6 Fibre is wonderful. But only when the fibre content is high (3gm or more per serving) is the product really high fibre.

7 For the food to be termed organic, at least 95% of the ingredients must be organic, and produced and processed free of synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Often only a single ingredient in the formula is organic, tricking you into purchase. Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients are labelled "made with organic ingredients".

8 'Real Ingredients' means nothing. It doesn't mean natural, it doesn't mean safer. It just means that like any product anywhere, there are ingredients in the bottle. Don't take it to mean anything else.

9 Oats are healthy. But when there is an added dose of refined sugar and artificial flavouring, it is no longer as healthy. Buy oats and add your own fruits and nuts.

10 Most packaged foods contain multiple servings, and often the serving sizes mentioned are really small. Who has 10gms of chips, really? So how much you end up eating may actually be double or triple of those numbers mentioned on the back of the pack.

11 Multigrain simply means many grains have been used. The flour could still be refined. Whole grain, on the other hand, uses the husk and other parts too, offering more fibre in your diet.

12 Percentage of Daily Value (%DV) is just an indication. Calorie requirements vary for everyone. Food labels are based on a daily diet of 2,000 calories, which is far more than the requirement of a sedentary person.

13 The preservatives added to a product (to lengthen its shelf life to 18+ months as opposed to a few days for natural products) ensure that whatever little natural ingredient is in the bottle is not going to be a difference-maker.

14 No, as due to lack of clear standards and definitions to govern the use of the term, it is often misused and used as a marketing tool. It's impossible to guarantee that a cosmetic or skin care product will never cause an allergic reaction. So it makes sense to test a small amount of any new product before use.

15 You can lighten your skin only to the shade behind your ears. That's the maximum any and every fairness cream can do. Anything more drastic, requires a more serious cosmetic procedure and added risks.

With inputs from Dr Deepali Bhardwaj, cosmetologist and skin specialist, The Skin and Hair Clinic, Delhi;

From HT Brunch, March 30

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