Friday, August 14, 2015

How to Read and Understand Food Labels

You walk down the aisle trying to figure out what to make for dinner. You remember that you are out of cereal so you pick up a box of  fruit loops for your children. Then you remembered your husband asked you to pick up some canned fruit for his lunch. You pick up two different cans. Which one should you buy? What's the nutritional difference between the two cans you hold in your hand?

When was the last time that you checked out the food label and ingredients list? The serving size is confusing enough. There has been many times that I have eaten what I thought was one serving only for it to end up being three! What about the rest of the label. What does DV% stand for and why should we care?! The pretty packaging can be deceiving. Advertisements and slogans often claim that something is healthy even if it is not. Instead of taking something at face value, it is important to understand how to read the food label.It allows you to compare nutrient values to another product to make the healthiest choice.

Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association
First it is important to determine the number of servings that are actually being consumed.  The amount of calories per serving is the most important section for weight control. According to the FDA, 40 calories is considered low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories is considered high.

Sample taken from a Mac N Cheese box

After the serving size, the label shows the number of  calories that come from Fat, Cholestrol, and Sodium. Not all fat is bad. Saturated fat is part of the total fat and is listed sepreately because it plays a significant part in raising blood cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. Trans fat works a lot like saturated fat but is worse. This fat starts out as liguid unsaturated fat but hydrogen is added to it and it becomes a solid saturated fat. When you see the words "partially hydrated" in the ingredient list, this is what it is talking about. Hydrogen is added to foods to increase the shelf life, but the trans fat damages blood vessels, increases the risk of heart diseas and contributes to increasing blood cholesterol. While there is debate and new findings that we can safely comsume much more sodium than originally thought, sodium should be monitored if you have certain health conditions or high blood pressure.

Get enough of these:

On the food label fiber, vitamin A, calcium, and iron are  identified in blue, because most Americans do not get enough of these in their diet. Getting enough can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.

%Daily Value:

The % Daily Value (DV) tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving. If you want
to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV — 5 percent or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), choice foods with a higher
% DV of 20 percent or more. The amounts circled in red in the footnote  are the Daily Values (DV) or recommended levels of intake and are based on public health experts' advice based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet. The DV's for cholesterol and sodium remain the same for both calorie amounts but other nutrients change.

Confused by the label where it lists % Daily Value. Here is the quick rundown to %DV. The label helps you interpret the numbers (grams and milligrams) by putting them all on the same scale for the day (0-100%DV). Each nutrient is based on 100% of the daily requirements for that nutrient (for a 2,000 calorie diet). This allows you to be able to high from low and know which nutrients contribute a lot, or very little to your daily recommended allowance.

Remember, 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high . You want it to be lower for the nutrients that you want to limit such as saturated fat, etc., and higher for fiber, calcium, etc. Trans fat, sugars and, protein do not list a %DV on the Nutrition Facts label.

As per the Food and Drug Administration,

 "Trans Fat: Experts could not provide a reference value for trans fat nor any other information that FDA believes is sufficient to establish a Daily Value or %DV. Scientific reports link trans fat (and saturated fat) with raising blood LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, both of which increase your risk of coronary heart disease, a leading cause of death in the US. A %DV is required to be listed for if a claim is made for protein, such as "high in protein". Otherwise, unless the food is meant for use by infants and children under 4 years old, none is needed. Current scientific evidence indicates that protein intake is not a public health concern for adults and children over 4 years of age. No daily reference value has been established for sugars because no recommendations have been made for the total amount to eat in a day. Keep in mind, the sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts label include naturally occurring sugars (like those in fruit and milk) as well as those added to a food or drink. Check the ingredient list for specifics on added sugars."

Ingredient List:
The first ingredient on the ingredient list is the most abundant. Ingredients are listed in decreasing value or amount. Limit foods where sugar, high fructose corn syrup, bleached flour, or partially hydrogenated oils are at the top. The ingredient list is the most important place to look if your are wondering what you are really eating. For healthier or less processed options, you want to aim for foods that have 5 ingredients or less and that are not full of names that you can pronounce.

I hope this blog post has helped answer some of your questions. As always,  if you have questions feel free to contact me.

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