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Read Nutrition Labels Carefully to Make a Better Nutritional Choice

It is important to read nutrition labels carefully since excessive sugar, fat or sodium levels in food is difficult to determine simply based on taste. For example, in the case of sodium, table salt is the main source of sodium in our diet. Saltier food usually means that there is a higher level of sodium content. However, even when the food is not very salty, it may contain a lot of sodium as other flavors (such as sweetness) might be masking its taste. As a result, individuals who are not reading nutrition labels may be consuming excessive levels of sodium. Among the three kinds of foods in Table I, corn flakes contain the highest quantity of sodium even though potato chips taste the most salty. Compared with the same amount of potato chips, corn flakes contain nearly 50 per cent more sodium.

 

Table I: Comparison of sodium content of different foods

 

FoodSodium content 
(mg/100g food)
Recommended 
daily intake (%)
Chocolate sandwich biscuits 333 17
Barbecue flavored potato chips 428 21
Frosted corn flakes 645 32

 

 

The Nutrition Labeling Scheme has been implemented for five years. Most pre-packaged food products have nutrition labels, enabling consumers to understand the nutritional content of food, in order to avoid food and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and salt.

 

Tips for Understanding Nutrition Labels

1) Take note of the reference amount

Most of the nutrition labels in Hong Kong provide nutritional information by the reference amount which is usually expressed in “per 100 g” or “per 100 ml”. A food package may contain more than the reference amount.  Therefore, if you consume the whole package, you need to multiply the amount of any food component listed on the label by the total amount you actually consume. For example, as shown in Table II, a 192 gram portion of the beef noodle bowl is almost double the reference amount. If you consume all of the contents in the bowl, it will add up to about 2,189mg of sodium. This is well over the maximum recommended daily limit of 2,000mg, according to the recommendation of the World Health Organization. Furthermore, the entire package also comprises 40 per cent of the recommended daily fat intake.

 

Table II: Instant beef noodle bowl nutrition label

 

 

2) Food packaging claims can be misleading

Words such as ‘light’, ‘less’ and ‘reduced’ are sometimes used on food packages. Nevertheless, ‘reduced fat’ does not mean that the food is a low-fat product. It only indicates that the product contains less fat than products that are similar. Words such as “less sweet” and “unsweetened” do not reflect the actual sugar content of food and these types of words are not under regulation in the Scheme. Therefore, read the nutrition labels carefully when buying food and compare the amounts with the standard values in Table III.

 

Table III: Reference Values of Nutrient Content Claims on Food Packaging

 

  HighLow
Per 100g or 100mlPer 100gPer 100ml
Total Fat More than 20g No more than 3g No more than 1.5g
Sugars More than 15g No more than 5g
Sodium More than 600mg No more than 120mg

 

Source: Centre for Food Safety

(www.cfs.gov.hk/english/programme/programme_nifl/files/UNDERSTAND_E.pdf)