Deciphering Food Labels

by Joy Buenviaje, RND, MSc

Paving through the aisles of grocery stores with a whole range of packaged food items, choosing the

right and best for the family is a challenge. While it is enticing to readily purchase food items with such

catchy claims, it is essential to figure out what is in the food.

With the limited time doing the grocery, shoppers would readily choose the preferred brands or just

look at the claims at front of pack. Claims such as “no cholesterol”, “zero trans fat”, “sugar free”, “low

salt” are quite nice. However, some might fail to investigate the overall healthfulness and nutrition

quality of a food.

There are still more information in the label to ponder upon. Here are some essential elements to look


1) Expiry date or best before date – Manufacturers either declare “expiry date” or “best before

date”. Quality of a food is at its best before the “expiry date” or “best before date”. A food item

can still be consumed after “best before”, not yet expired, but quality might be already

compromised. A food after “expiry date” would indicate that it’s already expired.

2) Ingredients list – ingredients are declared in descending order. What is declared first is the

ingredient which is highest in the amount.

3) Nutrition label – contains several information such as serving size and nutritional values.

a. Serving size – it is necessary to check the serving size as nutritional values declared are on a per serving. For example, a whole jar of dessert (250g) contains only 50kcal per serving but

the serving size declared is only 15g or 1 tablespoon. If one consumes all the content in the

jar, he/she has already consumed more than 800kcal.

b. Total calories – the amount of calories per serving indicates the amount of energy you can

get from food.

c. %RDA, %DRV or %RENI – imported products declare in percentages the recommended daily allowance (RDA) or the daily recommended values (DRV).

In the Philippines, we use the recommended energy and nutrient intake (RENI). For example, if a per serving of milk indicates 50% RENI of calcium, it means that 50% of the required calcium intake per day can be provided by one serving of milk.

d. Nutrients - it is better if a food item contains significant values of vitamins and minerals.

But there are also nutrients which should be avoided or consumed less. Trans-fat must be 0g

while saturated fat, sodium and sugar must be in low amounts.

Being educated on food labels can help us to become wise in purchasing more healthful products thus gearing towards a better health.

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