Update: Changes to the Nutrition Label

Nutrition labels can be a scary thing to any shopper. What does it mean? Are the percentages correct for my needs? How big is a mg? What's a cup of juice? Am I allowed to eat fat? Who cares? These are questions everyone seems to have, but no one seems to ask. Knowing how to use a nutrition label correctly can help to keep you on track!

The first thing most people look at on a nutrition label is the calories, when, in fact, the most important item on the label is the serving size. If a package says its contents have 50 calories, but the serving size in only two tiny crackers, it's not too realistic of a snack, is it? Look for products with serving sizes that you would realistically eat. The chart to the left has easy references to figure out how much of something is the serving sizes. It's also a good start to figure out how much of something you eat on a regular basis. For example, if you notice that you reach for 10 - 12 handfuls of chips in a sitting, you may be eating about five times too much, and you should put the bag down. Pay attention to the serving sizes, especially if you are one to count calories. It's cheating to just write down the number on the box if you've eaten three times that.

Now, let's get to everyone's favorite part: calories. Calories are the measurement of how much energy you get from food. If you consume more calories that you're using for energy, the excess is stored as fat. You may notice some packaged food is advertised as low calorie. This officially means that the product has about 40 calories per serving. A moderate calorie food has 100 calories per serving, and a high calorie food has 400 or more calories per serving. All of the other facts are linked back to the calories, because they are based on the needs of a person who needs 2,000 calories per day to maintain their energy and weight. An average male needs about that much, while women tend to need few calories. So, when I talk about the amount of a nutrient that you're trying to hit or stay under every day, it's for that perfect 2,000 calorie person. Keep that in mind when looking at nutrition labels; they are a guideline, not the end all, be all of health.

Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are macronutrients that give you energy, so they are suppliers of calories. Carbohydrates are broken down into two groups: fiber and sugar. Fiber's the one that keeps you full for a long time, while sugar takes you on a high and drops you off a roof. You're aiming for at least 25 grams of fiber per day and as little sugar as possible. Fat is a source of fear for dieters, but it shouldn't be! You actually want to get about 30 - 65 grams of fat per day, but most of it should be unsaturated fat. It's recommended to get fewer than 20 grams of saturated fat per day and no trans fat. A lovely trick with trans fat: even if a label says no trans fat, it can have .5 grams of trans fat per serving. Look at the ingredients for hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats in hiding. Keep an eye out for low fat options, because they replace the fat with excess sugar and fillers. Protein is the one that drives me crazy. I constantly hear "more protein, more protein, more protein", but most Americans eat WAY to much protein. Unfortunately, calculating your protein needs involves math. Take your weight, divide it by 2.2 and multiply it by .8. That's how many grams of protein you need per day, 10 - 35% of your daily calories.

Sodium is something to watch for those with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues. The upper level of sodium per day for these individuals is 1,500 grams, while the rest of the population should have no more than 2,400 mg of sodium. (Ask for the nutrition facts at any fast food restaurant, and see how many individual meals exceed this limit.) Low sodium options tend to be a better option, especially with canned and packaged foods.

The daily values are the little percentages on the right side of the label. A nutrient that has 5% or fewer of its daily value is considered low and 20% is considered high. You can use the percentages (just remember that they're based on the 2,000 calorie diet) to see how the foods you are eating fit together throughout the day and make trade-offs based on that. Some foods, such as protein, sugar, and trans fats, don't have a percent daily value. The amount of the nutrient needed either varies widely by person, or it is recommended to avoid that nutrient.

For the skilled label readers, the ingredient list can be just as important as the nutrition label. If you see more than five ingredients on a label and can't pronounce most of its contents, you should probably avoid that food. Watch out for preservatives, colors, hydrogenated oils, weird sugars, and other chemicals. Eat foods that as close to where it came from as possible!Type your paragraph here.

Know Your Nutrition Labels

Claims on PAckaged Foods

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There are hundreds of claims and labels on our foods. Some of the claims you see on the front of packaged foods will actually correlate with the nutrition facts on the back, but which ones?

  • Calorie free: less than 5 calories per serving
  • Reduced calorie: 25% fewer calories than the regular product
  • Low calorie: 40 calories or fewer per serving
  • Fat free/ sugar free: less than .5 grams of fat/sugar per serving
  • No added sugar: no sugar added during processing or packaging
  • High fiber: 20% or more of the daily value for fiber
  • Good source of fiber: 10-19% of the daily value of fiber
  • Low fat: 3 grams of fat or less per serving
  • Low in saturated fat: 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving
  • Light: at least 50% less fat than the regular product or 1/3 fewer calories if fewer than 50% of the calories are already from fat
  • More/ fortified/ enriched/ added/ extra/ plus: 10% more of the daily value than the regular product

What are some loopholes that need to be considered with these claims?

  • How much is a serving? Notice that most of the claims, especially the free's and low's, are dictated by the serving. Change the serving size; change the rule! My favorite example is TicTac's. Although they're almost all sugar, they are labeled as 'sugar free', because they contain less than .5 grams of sugar per serving. The serving size is one TicTac. What sane person eats one TicTac?
  • Is the claim in the name? If the claim of "Plus", "Organic", etc. is a part of the brand name, thee claim does not have to meet regulations. 

Before, we talked about how we can decipher the crazy that is the nutrition label. By July 26th, 2018, changes to the current nutrition label will be put into effect, and they're really moving in the right direction!

Here are some of the changes that you will see by next year:

  • Added sugar, which should be no more than 10% of the diet, will be specified on the label under total sugars.   
  • Vitamin D and potassium required, but Vitamin A and C won't be required anymore. Calcium and iron will continue to be required.
  • Removing calories from fat label from the top of the label, as it's been decided fats are not the enemy. (Go figure!)
  • Updating the recommended daily values of sodium, fiber, and vitamin D based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
  • Realistic serving sizes based on what people actually eat, not what that should eat. For example, right now a 20 ounce soda can be three serving sizes, to make the nutrient facts look a little better. Because many people will consume that entire beverage in one sitting, the container is only allowed to contain on serving. This is great for us,  because food companies will often finagle the serving sizes to fit certain rules. Trans fats, for instance, don't have to be on the label if there is less than .5 gram per serving. So, if they just decrease the serving size, the label can technically say "no trans fats". Not anymore! 

These changes will help us see inflammatory sources in our diets (added sugar), try to de-demonize fats, and help give us a better perspective of what is in the amounts we're eating rather than the idealized version of a portion size. It sure seems like these changes will make a difference in our food choices!