Decoding food labels: ICMR warns against misleading claims - The Tribune India

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Decoding food labels

ICMR warns against misleading claims

Decoding food labels

Photo for representation. File photo



FOOD labels mention the contents of packaged products. But can they be taken at face value? Flagging the issue of misleading claims on labels that can adversely impact consumers’ choices, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued a set of dietary guidelines.

It points out the glaring example of the deceptive nature of ‘sugar-free’ foods. While these products may seem like a boon for diabetics or those watching their weight, they could be loaded with fats, refined cereals and hidden sugars, significantly altering their nutritional profile. Similarly, packaged fruit juices may have a meagre 10 per cent fruit pulp, with the rest containing added sugars and other additives. The guidelines underscore the importance of scrutinising labels beyond the attractive health claims. Terms like ‘natural’, ‘whole grain’ and ‘organic’ may not guarantee such qualities in the product. Manufacturers often exploit these terms to capitalise on consumer preferences for healthier options, while the actual contents may fall short of expectations. The ICMR also questions the nutrition claims — terms like ‘low calorie’ or ‘high fibre’ are vague assertions unless backed with concrete facts.

Unfortunately, the ICMR’s advisory does not specifically address the needs of food allergy patients. For example, accurate labelling of gluten-free products is crucial to managing celiac disease and ensuring the wellbeing of the patients as even traces of gluten in foodstuffs can trigger adverse reactions in them. The medical body must advocate greater transparency and adherence to regulatory standards in gluten-free labelling. Misleading food labels contribute to the perpetuation of faulty dietary patterns, exacerbating obesity and other problems. The ICMR’s call to action is clear: consumers must exercise caution and diligence while making healthier choices for themselves and their families.


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