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How can understanding food labels help you manage your diet?
Eating better takes some knowledge and you can discover a lot about a food item by reading its label.
What is the nutrition-facts table on food labels?
The nutrition-facts section of the food label is typically located on the side or back of the package. All nutrition-facts labels follow the same format, stipulating the serving size and the number of servings in the container. All of the following information is for the portion size:
What key information should consumers understand when reading this table?
That all the information is for the stated portion size. You may have a tiny package that looks like one serving yet may contain multiple servings. Some people mistakenly assume the calories are for the whole package, and not for a portion of the package.
For example: You look at a snack-size bag of chips. It’s 3 ounces and looks like 1 portion to you, but actually contains 3 portions — each containing 150 calories. You eat it, thinking you’re eating 150 calories when you are actually consuming 450. You are 300 calories over your “budget” by making this mistake. Make that mistake daily and you can gain 30 pounds in a year!
Also, “sugars” refers to the sugar naturally occurring in the product as well as the refined added sugars. To see if the product has added sugars, check the ingredient label for sucrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and honey.
What are the nutrients that consumers should look for?
We need to have more dietary fiber, vitamins C and A, calcium and iron.
What nutrients should consumers avoid or reduce?
We need to reduce total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
What type of information can be misleading on food labels?
Probably the more confusing part of the label is the right side with the "% Daily Value." Let’s say that alongside dietary fat it says 15 percent. That means that this serving of food provides 15 percent of your desired daily fat intake, based on someone who eats 2,000 a day. Most women need less than 2,000 calories a day so this part of the label isn’t as helpful. Some people think that the 15 percent means the food contains 15 percent fat, is a relatively low-fat food and that is not correct.
Any final thoughts about reading food labels?
So many healthy fresh fruits and vegetables do not have food labels and yet we really need to eat more of them. For instance, fresh apples and potatoes provide more fiber when the skins are eaten.
Also when comparing nutrition from whole fruit versus bottled juice, it's always better to eat the whole fruit. The fruit contains fiber and provides more satiety and satisfaction than juices. When we drink calories (including those from fruit juice) it doesn’t “register” in the brain as food eaten. Drinking calories usually means you get excess calories, which tends to promote weight gain. If you do drink juice, limit it to 6 to 8 ounces a day.
For More Information
For more information about nutrition counseling, please call 619-740-4632. For more information about nutrition support services for patients, please call 619-740-4621. For health, wellness and weight management classes, please call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277).
To learn more about Sharp's nutrition services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about nutrition, read the Nutrition News archive.