by Sherri Meyer, Corporate Dietitian
By now you have probably heard that the FDA has recently revamped the food label. A long overdue makeover (far from perfect) but it is a start. Ideally, we wouldn’t need food labels if all our food came directly from our garden & local farmer, but alas, in today’s world this is not always possible. So, what to make of the new food labels?
First, marketers are geniuses at creating misleading health claims that lure consumers into buying products that they perceive as healthy, so buyer beware. The best remedy for this deception, look at the Nutrition Facts label.
When reviewing the label, here are a few things to consider: (source What to Look for on Food Labels)
Calories: Consider how the food fits in your daily calorie budget and compare with similar products. Pay attention to serving size.
Fats: While the focus is no longer on the amount of fat, check out the type of fat. The goal for saturated fat is less than 7 percent of your calories, generally around 15-20 grams. How much does this food contribute to your saturated fat intake? Does it contain trans fat? Best advice is to avoid buying if it contains trans fat (otherwise know as partially hydrogenated oils).
Sodium: The goal for sodium is to keep under 2,000 milligrams per day and that’s probably the biggest eye opener when looking at labels. If you choose a food that contains a fair amount of sodium, make sure the rest of your daily intake is lower. Often you will find a big variation in sodium content among brands.
Fiber: Fiber is beneficial for heart health and digestive function, so choose foods with higher fiber content. This generally comes from whole grains, legumes and beans, and fresh fruit and vegetables, so favor these to meet the goal of greater than 20 (ideally 25-35) grams of fiber per day.
Things to be aware of on food labels:
Gluten-free: It’s the current buzzword and it is essential that you avoid gluten if you have celiac disease, but don’t assume gluten free means healthier as some options are highly processed.
Natural: This tends to be popular for marketing purposes, but has no formal definition. Natural chips or beer don’t necessarily have any added nutritional benefit.
A green label: Yes, it is a selling point as people assume foods are healthier when the label is green as opposed to other colors. (not true)
Low fat: By definition, the product must contain 3 grams of fat or less per serving, but keep in mind that it can still be high in sugar, sodium or calories.
Whole grain versus multigrain: Choose 100 percent whole grain to be assured it truly is whole grain. The “multi” label means that the product contains more than one grain, however, all of them can be refined.