Deciphering Food Labels (page 3)
Research has shown that eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and osteoporosis. And the grocery store shelves are full of foods with packaging promising to help do that.
But it's important to take a close look — beyond the promises — at the nutritional values, ingredients, and calorie counts in the food you buy, and to understand how they factor into your family's healthy eating.
Food labels provide this information and allow you to make smart choices to help meet your family's nutritional needs.
Food Labels Information
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) require labels on almost all packaged foods that include nutrition information in readable type. The information usually appears on the back or side of packaging under the title "Nutrition Facts." It's also displayed in grocery stores near fresh foods, like fruits, vegetables, and fish.
The nutrition facts label includes:
- a column of information — "% Daily Value" — that shows what portion of the amount of daily recommended nutrients the product provides, based on a 2,000-calorie diet
- information about total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, fiber, and other nutrients
- serving size
Additional information on the food label will include:
- content claims, such as "light" or "low-fat," that must meet strict government definitions so that they are accurate and consistent from one food to another
- health claims, like "While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of this disease," which must meet government requirements for approval
- ingredient list
At a glance, it may appear as though everything on the shelves either adds fiber to your diet or reduces fat intake. To make healthy, informed food choices, it's important to understand: food label claims; serving sizes; calorie requirements; percent daily values; and important nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Food Label Claims
Manufacturers often make claims about the healthfulness of a food on the front of a package — like "fat-free" or "no cholesterol." Many people wonder if they can trust these claims to be true. The fact is, the FDA does require food-makers to provide scientific evidence in order to make those claims. Even so, it's a good idea to carefully read the claims and understand what they mean.
- Reduced fat means that a product has 25% less fat than the same regular brand.
- Light means that the product has 50% less fat than the same regular product.
- Low-fat means a product has less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Even if a food is low in fat, the food may not necessarily be low in calories or nutritious. Even a low-fat food can be high in sugar. Food companies also may make claims such as "no cholesterol," but that does not necessarily mean the product is low in fat.
Serving Size and Servings Per Container
At the top of each food label is an amount listing for serving size. These are determined by the food manufacturer, and they're based on the amount that people generally eat. All of the information about the nutritional value of the food that is listed on the label is given according to the serving size. So if a serving size is 2 crackers and you eat 4 crackers — which would be two servings — you need to double all of the nutrition information.
The number of servings per container tells you how many serving sizes are in the whole package. So if one serving is 1 cup, and the entire package has 5 cups, there are five servings per package.
A calorie is a unit of energy that measures how much energy a food provides to the body. The number of calories that's listed on the food label indicates how many calories are in one serving.
Calories From Fat
The second number, calories from fat, tells the total calories in one serving that come from fat. The label lists fat so that people can monitor the amount of fat in their diets.
Dietitians generally recommend that adults consume no more than 30% of calories come from fat over the course of the day. That means that if the food you eat over the course of a day contains 2,000 calories total, no more than 600 of these should come from fat. Children 1-3 years old should get 30%-40% of calories from fat; kids and teens 4-18 years old should get 25%-30% of calories from fat.
Percent Daily Values
Percent daily values are listed in the right-hand column in percentages, and they tell how much of a certain nutrient a person will get from eating one serving of that food. If a serving of a food has 18% iron, then that food is providing 18% of your daily iron needs based on 2,000 calories per day.
Percent daily value is most useful for determining whether a food is high or low in certain nutrients. If a food has 5% or less of a nutrient, it is considered to be low in that nutrient. A food is considered a good source of a nutrient if the percentage is between 10%-19%. If the food has 20% or more of the percent daily value, it is considered high in that nutrient.
The information on food labels is based on an average diet of 2,000 calories per day, but the actual number of calories and nutrients that kids need will vary according to their age, weight, gender, and level of physical activity. (For more guidance, check out the USDA's MyPlate.)
So use food labels as a guide to determine whether a food is generally nutritious, but don't worry so much about calculating the nutrients down to the exact ounce as long as your kids are healthy. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor.
This number indicates how much fat is in a single serving of food and it's usually measured in grams. Although eating too much fat can lead to obesity and related health problems, our bodies do need some fat every day.
Fats are an important source of energy — they contain twice as much energy per gram as carbohydrate or protein. Fats provide insulation and cushioning for the skin, bones, and internal organs. Fat also carries and helps store certain vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
But because eating too much fat can contribute to health problems, including heart disease, adults and kids over 4 years old should have about 30% of their daily calorie intake come from fat. Kids 1 to 3 years old should get 30%-40% of calories from fat.
Saturated Fat and Trans Fat
The amount of saturated fat appears beneath total fat. The FDA also requires food-makers to list trans fats separately on the label.
Saturated fats and trans fats are often called "bad fats" because they raise cholesterol and increase a person's risk for developing heart disease. Both saturated and trans fats are solid at room temperature (picture them clogging up arteries!).
Saturated fat usually comes from animal products like butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, and meats. Trans fats are naturally found in these foods, too. But they're also in vegetable oils that have been specially treated, or hydrogenated, to be solid at room temperature — the fats in stick margarine and shortening, for example. Some cookies, crackers, fried foods, snack foods, and processed foods also contain trans fats.
Saturated fats should account for less than 10% of the calories that kids eat each day, and the amount of trans fat that they consume should be as low as possible (less than 1% of total calories).
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
Add your own comment
Today on Education.com
WORKBOOKSMay Workbooks are Here!
WE'VE GOT A GREAT ROUND-UP OF ACTIVITIES PERFECT FOR LONG WEEKENDS, STAYCATIONS, VACATIONS ... OR JUST SOME GOOD OLD-FASHIONED FUN!Get Outside! 10 Playful Activities
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
- Bullying in Schools
- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- Steps in the IEP Process