by Yohnnie Shambourger, former Mr. Universe
Before you bag those items you spent an hour or so tossing in the cart, why not spend a couple of minutes more getting to know the ingredients canned and packaged that you are about to eat. Do you grab the items advertised as healthy, low-sodium or “light” thinking to yourself that’s all you need to know in choosing what to buy? NOT TRUE!
When grocery shopping, examining the food label (Nutrition Facts) plays a valuable role in how you select what’s the healthiest items for you and your family. Understanding food labels can be important in the battle against obesity and diet related diseases, which has become a huge burden in our community. Reading food labels isn’t as easy as you may think. Here’s how to decipher nutrition labels so you can separate facts from marketing.
Start at the top with the Serving Size, Servings Per Container and Amount Per Serving. You should pay close attention to serving size because it’s generally less than you plan to consume. If a can of soup or a fruit drink has a serving size of 2 and you consume the whole thing. You have to double the calories and all the daily values listed on the label. When comparing foods, make sure, the serving sizes are the same.
Next is the % Daily Value. This shows how much of the daily recommended amounts of these nutrients are in a serving (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
Reading the percentage of nutrients can be tricky. So, pay close attention to Total Fat, Sodium and Total Carbohydrate.
We know to stay away from Trans Fat but manufacturers have a loophole. If the food contains less than 0.5 g trans fat per serving, it can be listed as 0 g trans fat. So, if you eat more than one serving, you can quickly increase your daily level of trans fat. Check the ingredients list and if it has partially hydrogenated oil or hydrogenated oil, you are eating trans fat. According to the AHA trans fat can elevate your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreases your good cholesterol (HDL).
Know your Sodium. Be careful of your daily sodium (salt) intake because too much can harmfully effect your blood pressure. Again, based on a 2,000 calorie diet the AHA recommends no more than 1,500 mg of sodium and no more than 16 grams of saturated fat a day, while most of us consume 2 to 3 times that amount daily. Other names for salt are sodium benzoate, disodium or monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sodium nitrite.
When reading Total Carbohydrate you will notice that there is no percentage of daily value (%DV) for sugar. That’s because sugar is a carbohydrate that improves taste and provides a short-term energy boost but contains no vitamins, minerals or fatty acids. In short, it has no nutritional value at all. Other names for added sugar can include: brown sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup.
Many times the deception starts at the front of the packaging with claims of “100% Natural” in bold print and “made from concentrate” in small print. This is just wrong! The item is not “100% Natural” if it’s not made from whole ingredients or has ascorbic acid or citric acid listed as ingredients.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food labeling regulations have clear definitions for low-calorie, low-fat and “light” foods and beverages.
- Low-Fat – 3 grams or less of total fat for a given reference amount
- Low-Calorie – no more than 40 calories for a given reference (except sugar substitutes)
More trickery in labeling, “Light or Lite” defined by the FDA means 50% less fat or calories than the regular product. Now, that is a healthier choice, except when the regular product is 10 times higher in calories or fat.
It is unlikely to be a low-fat, low-calorie food, because it will still be 5 times higher than the 3g per serving that officially qualifies as low fat.
Finally read the Ingredients list. This is a list of all the ingredients contained in this package. They are listed in descending order of predominance by weight. Basically, the first ingredient listed is used the most and the last ingredient is used the less. One exception to that is any ingredient that is less than 2% can be listed in any order at the end of the list. Carefully, look through the list for the substituted names used for trans fat, sodium and sugar. The ingredients list is especially important to read if you have any food allergies. Make sure the allergen that you are concerned about is not in this list.
Now you have more information to navigate through the tricky math and code words used in the marketing of the foods we eat every day.