Monday, June 13, 2011

Nutrition Labels

It seems that the more customers try to choose healthier food options the more complicated the food labels become.  As a registered dietitian, I am concerned that the customer is falling for advertising gimmicks and tricks and purchasing unhealthy options with the best intentions. Learning a few key words will help you to avoid label fraud. 

In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling Act was enacted and required all food products under FDA carry labels. Labels must supply standard serving size, number of servings in package, calories per serving and calories from fat.  Daily Values (DV) represent percentage of nutrients based on 2000 calories a day. Ingredients are listed inorder by weight.
First key word is FREE. (trans-fat free, fat-free, sodium-free, calorie-free etc)  FREE is defined as less than 5 calories or less than .50 grams per suggested serving size.  In other words, it should read… Almost free but not really. 
Second key word is Good Source. To be labeled Good Source a product must have 10-19% of daily value of a certain nutrient per serving. 
FUEL Tip: If a product has > 20% of a nutrient consider it high; if it has < 5% of a nutrient considers it low. One product can be both high in one nutritent but low in a nother. See example below.

This product has 40% DV for Cholesterol and 4% DV for Dietary fiber. This is a high cholesterol and low fiber product.
Third confusing, misleading, and deceptive term is light. A light product contains 1/3rd  less calories or ½ fat grams than the standard food.
FUEL Tip: Light does NOT mean low calorie or low fat.
Once you get past the jargon on the front and side panel move your eyes to the dreadful ingredient list. It can be argued that you need a degree in chemistry to understand most ingredient list lurking in our grocery aisles.
Trick one: Sugars are distributed among many ingredients so that sugars don't appear in the top three. Example, manufacturers use a combination of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, brown sugar, dextrose and other sugar ingredients to make sure none of them are present in large enough quantities to attain a top position on the ingredients list!
Trick two:  DO NOT be fooled by the name of the product.  Yes, the name!
Did you know that the name of the food product has nothing to do with what's in it? Food names can include words that describe ingredients not found in the food at all. A "cheese" cracker, for example, does not have to contain any cheese. A "creamy" something doesn't have to contain cream. A "fruit" product need not contain a single molecule of fruit. Names are designed to sell products, not to accurately describe the ingredients contained in the package.
The bottom line is to become more aware of the products you select off the shelf.
FUEL Tip: Purchase foods without food labels; they are always nutritious without a hidden agenda.

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