Nutrition label is a systematic way of presenting nutrition information of food products. It is usually in a tabular format with a heading like “Nutrition Information”, “Nutrition Facts” or “Nutrition label”.
Energy and nutrient values can be expressed in different reference amounts such as per 100 g/mL, per serving or per package.
Nutrition label lists out the energy content and values of 7 nutrients specified for labelling (“1+7”), namely, protein, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, sugars and sodium.
Read the energy content first because getting too much energy increases the risk of overweight and obesity, leading to increased risk of heart diseases, diabetes and certain types of cancer. The energy content of food can be expressed in kilocalories (kcal) or kilojoules (kJ) (1 kcal ≈ 4.2 kJ) or in both. It tells you how much energy you get by eating the reference amount of food. Then look for the amount of the 7 nutrients specified for labelling.
Total fat, Saturated fat, Trans fat and Sugars:
In order to maintain heart health and a desirable body weight, try to limit these nutrients (total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sugars) by choosing food with lower amount.
Try to limit the intake of sodium to not more than 2000 mg a day. Diet low in sodium is considered healthier.
Protein and Carbohydrates:
Try to eat appropriate amounts of protein and carbohydrates for a balanced diet. For a 2000-kcal diet.
In addition to the 7 nutrients specified for labelling, you may also find information of other nutrients in the nutrition label. Based on your personal dietary needs, make sure you get enough of these nutrients (e.g. dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins), and avoid getting too much of certain nutrients (e.g. cholesterol).
Reading energy and nutrient content together with the reference amount can help you compare nutritional content of different food products and choose food that is healthier (e.g. lower in fat, lower in sodium, lower in sugars) as well as understanding the amount of energy and nutrients you get from food.
A high percentage Nutrient Reference Value (%NRV) means the food contains a lot of a nutrient whereas a low %NRV means it contains just a little. A general and simple rule is to look for foods that have lower %NRV for nutrients that you need to limit e.g. total fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugars, and higher %NRV for nutrients that are good for your health e.g. dietary fibre. Whenever using the information on nutrition label, besides referring to the percentage, the best practice is to check the actual nutritional content whenever they are available to get a nutritional overview of the product and make healthy food choices. Prepackaged food only contributes a proportion of the overall diet. To eat healthily, one should always follow the healthy eating principle, i.e. a balanced diet with variety, and practise the “3Low 1High” recommendation, i.e. low fat, low salt (sodium), low sugars and high fibre.