By Dr. Cory Couillard
Food labels can be useful in determining the nutritional value and safety of food. However, it is common for individuals to not fully understand the labels and miss the most important components.
The percentage of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, calories and serving size is not the most important part of the food label. This component of the food label does not take into account the quality of the labelled nutrients and can mislead the consumer.
The recommended daily values do not take into account the age, gender, activity level or specific dietary needs a person may have. All of these factors are known to impact the body’s ability to utilise nutrients in the food. An unknown complicating factor is the abundance of highly processed foods in restaurants and grocery stores.
Convenience is becoming the most important part of our food — not nutrients. Recent studies show that the amount of grinding, slicing, mashing and manipulating away from a food’s natural state affects the availability of calories people get. Processing increases the amount of calories one can get from the food.
This may appear to be good news, but processed foods often contain artificial colourings, sugars, preservatives and other added chemicals that are unhealthy and addictive. Being addicted to these foods will increase consumption, increase calories consumed and encourage weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.
Processed foods may serve a purpose for the under-nourished, but over-nourishment and weight gain have become the most prevalent health complications in the world. The rates of non-communicable diseases are increasing out of control in most regions.
Current system outdated
Scientists know that the amount of calories in a particular food are just estimates. Over recent years, many scientists have called for changes to the limited system. The increased awareness of the consumer is demanding easy, accurate and reliable information about the food that they eat.
“If we’re going to put the information out there on the food label, it would be nice that it is accurate,” says David Baer, a research physiologist at the US Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Centre in Beltsville, Md.
A 2012 study reveals that almonds have 20% fewer usable calories than previously estimated. Almonds are roasted, sliced, salted and processed in many different ways. The type of processing will affect digestion, percentage of absorption and overall caloric load on the body.
Convenience foods high in calories
Eating a potato that is over-cooked will change the calories we get from it. For example, if you eat a mashed potato that has been calculated to contain 300 calories, you are likely to absorb most of those calories. But if you eat a whole, unprocessed potato of the same size, you will take in around 200 calories. This is a substantial difference if one is trying to lose and maintain a healthy weight.
The processing of food impacts carbohydrates a lot more than proteins as they are easier to breakdown in the body.
Experts estimate the calories from unprocessed versus processed meats may only differ by 5% to 10%, while certain carbohydrates could be as much as 50%.
The trouble with the current food label system is that it essentially treats all foods the same regardless of how it is prepared and consumed.
The rates of weight gain, diabetes and heart disease closely parallels the consumption rates of processed foods. Convenience and processed foods are essentially making us fat.
This column is directed by your questions and comments. The advice provided is in collaboration with WHO and the International Diabetes Federation’s goals of prevention, maintenance and natural treatment of disease. The advice is for educational purposes only. Email: email@example.com. Facebook: Cory Couillard, Twitter: Cory_Couillard