Label Reading Action Plan

Read the label.

Just because a food's package says it is good for you doesn't mean it is. These labels pretend to help you make such decisions as whether baked potato chips are healthier than fried. There's a lot more to learn from a package than that! To make healthy choices for yourself, you must learn to read the label. Currently there are two categories of information to be found on the label: mandatory information and voluntary information. Mandatory information is required by law and includes the total number of calories, information about fat (including calories from fat, total fats, saturated fat, and trans fats), cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, protein, sugars, several micronutrients (such as Vitamins A, C, calcium, and iron, and dietary fiber (but not the fiber breakdown). The volunteer information often displayed can include further breakdown of the mandatory information. However, if a company makes a claim regarding any of the voluntary information such as stating a product is "high in beta carotene" that section becomes mandatory on the label. It is also required to display the information if a food is fortified or enriched with anything from the volunteer categories. Fortified means nutrients have been added that are not normally part of that food; such as calcium in orange juice. Enriched means nutrients lost in processing have been put back into the item; such as some of the B vitamins in wheat flour. Food labeling can be very misleading and difficult to understand. Many people skip the ingredients, instead relying on the front of the package to tell them about the item they are buying. Often manufacturers will use the front label to make claims about their food. They do this to get consumers to not read the nutrition label. Unfortunately many claims that can be found on the front of a package can be misleading. All of these claims are based on serving size not portion size. As far as ingredients, the higher up on the in the list an ingredient is the more of that ingredient is in the product. Too often manufacturers do not want to call attention to the primary ingredient. One way they do this is by using several sources of the same ingredient. For example sugar: If the label lists evaporated cane sugar, rice syrup, and honey, the amount of overall sugars available in the product can be quite high, even if the sugars my not be at the top of the list.

Calculate the per serving...not the per portion.

Most people don't take the time to look at the serving size. If they do, they may not take the time to do the math. Additionally, many of us do not understand how much or how little a serving size really is. If we're being honest, most of us will confess that we pour until it "looks right" and consider that the serving size. What we serve ourselves, the amount we choose to eat, is considered a portion. There are no standard portion sizes, which are frequently considered larger than a serving. This means when eating a portion, most people are actually consuming far more calories than they think they are! For example, the label on a tuna fish can states it contains 2.5 servings, but many people consider one can a single serving.

Be aware of the sugars.

Unfortunately we have become addicted to sugar in this country, and we consumefar too much of it. Eating too much sugar can have a negative effect on your health as the excess is converted to fat tissue.

Be aware of the fat content.

Other challenges to understanding the nutrition label are the items that appear to equal zero. Many people don't realize that federal guidelines allow manufacturer to claim that there is 0% of an ingredient (such as trans-fats) if the total value is less than .5 grams per serving. Trans-fats are fats that have been hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in order to stay solid at room temperature. Look for words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in the ingredients section of the label.

If you do not understand an ingredient, don't eat it.

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