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Knowing your nutrition facts is key to better health.

Many food products sold in supermarkets carry nutrition facts labels to help you control the energy intake. The label is generated according to the standards maintained by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and carry a listing of nutrients that are most essential in a normal diet. The values are typically based on 100g per serving and some even provide for the total pack contents.

Making sense of the nutrition label can be confusing, especially when energy information varies according to the countries of manufacture.

However, there are some basic nutrients that are required for good health such as calories, fat, protein and minerals. Calories provide the energy you need while calcium and magnesium are some of the minerals required for body functions.

Fat counts

Apart from calories, fat content is the next thing most people like to keep a tab on when it comes to nutritional information.

“Low-fat items are foods that have 3 g or less of total fat per 100 g,” says Grace Quek, Senior Dietitian at the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.  The high-fat category comprises any food with 20 g or more of total fat per 100 g.

Daily fat allowances are below:

Typical daily allowancesFemale office worker Male office worker
Total fat47-56 g58-70 g
Saturated fat17 g21 g
Cholesterol300 mg

Fatten up your chances of remembering

Can’t remember these numbers? Use round figures, or create a mnemonic. For example, a female could target a maximum of 50 g (round number) of total fat per day.  Males could aim for 62, the current retirement age in Singapore!

For saturated fat, females can think of the age they had when they took their O’ level exams (typically at 16 or 17 years old).  Males can associate it to the country’s legal age of majority.

Why worry about nutritional labels?  Many studies have shown that people underestimate the number of calories in food, especially in unhealthy items. Simply put, nutritional literacy increases awareness.

For instance, a char siew pow (bun with roast pork fillings) looks pretty inoffensive – it’s steamed, right? But do you know that its fat content (15 g) is almost a third of the daily allowance for a typical female office worker?

Saturated fat is of particular concern because it tends to raise levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in the blood. A high cholesterol level is a prime risk factor for ischaemic heart disease, the second cause of death in Singapore.

While Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends a maximum of 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day, you should limit it at 200 mg per day if iyou have high cholesterol level, says Ms Quek.

Ref. Q15