6 Ways to Read Food Labels: Health Coaches Share The Invisible Health Risks in Everyday Foods

Revant runs a foodpharmer on Instagram

Remember those little discs called ‘tazos’ we found in packets of chips back in the 2000’s?

Part of a worldwide promotional campaign first created by brand Frito-Lay in 1994, they are also very popular in schools. Everyone will be discussing, exchanging, sharing, laughing about the latest Tazo they managed to put together with their friends.

Have you ever thought about how many chips you consumed before building your Tazo collection?

“I bought several packets of chips to build my Tazo collection as a kid. I’ll just eat some chips and give the rest of the package to my parents. This causes them to unknowingly consume a lot of junk food,” recalls Revant Himatsingka, a health coach and content creator, in a conversation Better India.

The ill effects of consuming too much junk food wore off on the young Revant, but as he got older, he began to notice that something was wrong.

Revant runs a foodpharmer on Instagram
Revant wants to educate people about the importance of reading food labels

“Nearly 60-70% of what we eat is packaged, and what we eat has a direct impact on our health. After I started reading food labels, I realized how companies mislead us by using catchy taglines and calling their food ‘healthy’. Most packaged foods lie to us. Learning to read beyond this tagline is very important,” added the 31-year-old man.

In its report ‘The State of the World’s Children’ released in 2019, UNICEF highlights a glaring problem – too many school youth eat processed foods, and 42% drink carbonated soft drinks at least once a day, while 46% eat fast food at least a week very. “Millions of children eat too little of what they need, and millions of children eat too much of what they don’t need,” the report states.

Tackling this worrying problem has been Revant’s mission since April 2023, when he started educating lakhs about the health claims FMCG companies make on their packaging, and exposing how unhealthy popular foods can be.

This effort was sparked earlier this year, when Revant went viral over a video exposing a popular children’s drink for its excessive sugar content. Widely shared on social media, the video will also result in a legal notice, because of which he must remove the video. Regardless, the video made him an overnight sensation and, subsequently, a household name in dispelling myths around unsupported health claims.

How healthy is your favorite food?

Before embarking on this journey, Revant had a comfortable job that paid him millions annually, he recalls. But the experiences she had growing up prompted her to quit her job earlier this year.

As we discussed this turn of events, he related an anecdote – his grandparents would always start their day with a cup of hot tea. chai and two biscuits.

“But no one thinks about the ingredients that are in these biscuits, or how much sugar or maida they might contain. Most of the biscuits on the market also contain palm oil. It’s not the once-a-week chocolate that’s making you unhealthy, it’s actually the daily biscuit,” he notes.

This awareness of undetected evil prompted Revant to take courses in nutrition from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition along with his management degree from NYU Stern School of Business. “I solve business problems as a management consultant, [but] I wanted to use those same skills to solve one of life’s biggest problems — health. The blatant lies used by food companies in their packaging really annoys me,” he said.

It was this passion that led him to make his famous viral video in April this year.

“The label on the drink says you get stronger bones and muscles. The reason I chose to make a video about this drink is because people find it healthy. They have no qualms about giving this twice a day to their kids – that’s 14 times a week. People think that fizzy drinks like coke are unhealthy, which we probably only drink once a week. But the first has a direct impact on our health, ”he added.

On his Instagram @foodpharmer, Revant educates his 500,000 followers on how to make healthier choices. It includes videos decoding labels of popular packaged noodles, drinks, biscuits, sauces and more, as well as helping people decide which bread is better for them, which drinks they can choose, etc. He also promotes small businesses that are “relatively healthier” than larger brands. The goal is to help people choose better, he said.

Remember this next time you are at the supermarket

While Revant agrees that it’s impossible to live without consuming packaged foods, he just wants people to make informed choices. “There are two kinds of junk food — one that pretends to be healthy, and a second that is just junk food. My problem with the first one, which I want to reveal,” he stressed.

So how can we make good everyday choices when we choose our food? For this, Revant shares six tips with us:

  1. The ingredients are listed in order of weight:

“The first ingredient is what the package contains the most. So if you buy biscuits, the first three ingredients are usually maida (wheat flour), palm oil and sugar,” said Revant.

  1. Purchase items that have less than five ingredients:

“Try to stay away from products that have more than five ingredients. As the ingredient list grows, it does inversely proportional to its nutritional benefits.

  1. Avoid products that have complicated ingredients:

“If you can’t recognize or pronounce the ingredients in a product, it’s not good for you. Buy products that you can understand the ingredients for, such as those that say dates, peanuts, milk, etc. If there are ingredients like maltodextrin, anti-caking agents, technical chemicals, stay away from it,” he added.

  1. Buy items that don’t have sugar in the first 5-6 ingredients:

“Avoid products that list sugar first or second. Those products are basically just sugar.”

  1. Choose a slightly healthier option:

“The whole idea is to make healthier choices. Instead go for a Maida biscuits, go for atta biscuits (whole wheat flour).”

  1. The best foods for you are those that are off the label:

“In the end, the healthiest foods are off-label foods, fruits and vegetables. If you have to buy other products, choose simple products that you know the ingredients for. For example, if you buy peanut butter, choose a product that contains only peanuts,” Revant explains.

In his quest to make the next generation healthier and wiser in their food choices, Revant dreams of a day when every child is taught how to read food labels. He now goes to schools and colleges to teach students these skills too. Here, he often finds children asking interesting and intelligent questions.

“They questioned why the front of the package said something the product clearly didn’t. They want to know why their favorite celebrity is endorsing unhealthy products. I hope this will lead to better choices,” smiled Revant.

“If children are taught how to read food labels and understand the consequences, it will make a big difference. Companies will be forced to market themselves honestly, and this will change the game.”

Edited by Padmashree Pande and Divya Sethu


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