Hunger pangs and the aroma of lip-smacking food make you run towards food. Lack of time and a busy schedule make you quietly eat ready-to-eat packaged foods without even thinking of what they really contain.
You may feel that ignorance is bliss, but it can also be the cause of many diseases, one of which is obesity.
Obesity is the mother of numerous conditions like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, sleep disorders and cancer. (1) Obesity and being overweight are two major public health concerns today. More than 135 million individuals in India alone are battling obesity. (2) Obesity not only harms adults but is also a menace for innocent young children who tend to remain obese as they grow into adults. Therefore, the need for a simple but practical solution to manage obesity is evident. (3)
Reading is the answer to this problem.
Are you wondering how reading can help you control, prevent and manage this highly notorious condition? Well, read on to know more.
Follow One Simple Trick: Read
Balance! Balance! And, balance! All the treatment for obesity you need is packed in one word. To maintain a healthy weight, the energy that’s taken in should be the same as the energy utilised or burned to maintain body weight — that’s energy balance. However, if you take in more energy than you utilise or burn, then you will put on more weight. If you want to lose weight, then you’ll need to burn more energy than the amount you take in. Solutions like exercising and limiting food intake are suggested to maintain this balance. (4)
Check out these everyday foods that aid in weight loss.
The simple act of reading can help you achieve this balance. But, reading what? The labels of every packaged food item carry something called a nutrition label. This label contains details of all the macronutrients and the energy that the item contains. Make it a habit to go through the nutrition label before you eat or drink any packaged food items. The very objective of the labels stating nutritional facts on the food package is to provide information regarding the quality of the food that you eat and to prevent diseases like obesity. (5)
A study titled, “The effects of nutritional labels on obesity” found that the average BMI of men who read labels is 0.12 points lower than those who don’t read it. In the case of women, the difference in the average BMI was found to be much higher, at 1.49 points. This indicates the need for incorporating such reading habits and the effectiveness of reading food labels on managing and even preventing obesity. (6)
Another study published in 2018 involved 16,911 men and women, and it concluded that the presence of a relationship between awareness and use of nutrition labels on food packages and obesity. It found that education on how to read a label is not optional, but a must for consumers to manage and control obesity. (7)
Therefore, reading labels is key to losing excess weight and improving the quality and quantity of the food you eat. (8) Here’s what information a typical nutrition label contains and how you can use it to eat more smartly.
- Serving size: The nutrition label provides details of one serving only and not the entire pack. So, if a package contains many servings, the reader should multiply the content on the label by the number of servings. (8) For example, if 7 chips comprise one serving, the label on the pack will indicate the calories and other nutrition facts of 7 chips only. However, the entire pack of chips may contain 14 chips. So, if you eat all 14 chips, you should understand that you have consumed double the calories given on the label. (9)
- Fat content: For fat content, focus on trans fats and saturated fats mentioned on the label. The trans fats in your food should be zero, ideally. Saturated fats should provide for about 5% to 6% of your daily calorie intake. To calculate the number of calories from fat, you can multiply the number of grams of fat by 9 as one gram of fat equals 9 calories. (8,10)
- Cholesterol: Many foods with high cholesterol do not have a nutrition label on them. However, saturated fats and trans fats affect cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol. (8)
- Carbohydrates and fibre: Disregard the total carbohydrate content but consider the fibre content. Choose foods with high fibre content. (8)
- Sugar: It is the most common ingredient that’s present in several food items, like breakfast cereals, bread, yoghurt, cakes, sodas and salad dressings. Avoid food items with added sugars in any form, for example, brown sugar, honey, sucrose or fructose. You can find the name of the sugar in the label by identifying the names ending with ‘ose’ like fructose, dextrose and maltose. (8,11)
- Vitamins, calcium, potassium and iron: Read the labels of food packages and ensure that your daily food intake meets the specified amounts of these ingredients. Table 1 indicates the daily recommended intake of some of the nutrients. (8)
Table 1. Recommended Daily Intake of Nutrients in Men And Women (8)
|Vitamin A||700 mcg||900 mcg|
|Vitamin C||75 mg||90 mg|
|Calcium||At least 1,200 mg||At least 1,200 mg|
|Potassium||At least 4.7 g||At least 4.7 g|
|Iron||At least 8 mg||At least 8 mg|
As you start reading labels regularly, you will understand how to pick the right variants of food that have less sugar, salt and fats, and more fibre, or those that are fortified with vitamins. The information provided on nutrition labels can be extremely helpful in monitoring the healthiness of your food and its impact on your health. Taking out two minutes for a quick glance at the label can help you save many hours at the doctor’s clinic later. So, go ahead and make reading your new health fad and get rid of obesity!
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Overweight and obesity [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jun 12]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/overweight-and-obesity.
- Ahirwar R, Mondal PR. Prevalence of obesity in India: a systematic review. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2019;1(13):318-321. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2018.08.032
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for parents – ideas to help children maintain a healthy weight [Internet]. [updated 2018 May 23; cited 2019 June 12]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/index.html.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Why is a healthy weight important? [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jun 12]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/index.htm.
- Rimpeekool W, Yiengprugsawan V, Kirk M, Banwell C, Seubsman SA, Sleigh A. Nutrition label experience, obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood lipids in a cohort of 42,750 Thai adults. PLoS One. 2017 Dec 13;12(12):e0189574. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189574. eCollection 2017.
- Loureiro ML, Yen ST, Nayga R. The effects of nutritional labels on obesity. Agricultural Economics. May 2012;43(3):333-342. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1574-0862.2012.00586.x.
- Kim SD. Relationship between awareness and use of nutrition labels and obesity. Biomedical Research. 2018;29(11):2238-2242.
- Harvard Health Publishing. Get to know your food labels [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jun 12]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/get-to-know-your-food-labels.
- American Academy of Family Physicians. Nutrition: how to read a nutrition facts label [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jun 12]. Available from: https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-how-to-read-a-nutrition-facts-label/.
- American Heart Association. Saturated fat [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jun 24]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats.
- Harvard Health Publishing. How to spot — and avoid — added sugar [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jun 12]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-spot-and-avoid-added-sugar.