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June 2015

What to Look for on the Food Label

Food labels can be confusing with all of the health claims and information they are trying to convey.  Add to that the nutrition information on the nutrition facts label, and you end up not knowing which product to buy!  Research has found that these nutrition facts labels can help us to make healthier food choices; however, they may also be difficult to understand. Let’s take a closer look at the information on the food label.

Start with the Ingredients List
This will help you to identify a minimally processed food which usually is nutrient-dense and a healthy food choice.  Manufacturers are required to list all ingredients in order by weight.  Therefore, the first ingredient on the label is what there is the most of.  The fewer the ingredients the better, as these foods tend to be less processed.

Nutrition Facts Label
Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed updates to the nutrition facts label to improve public health. The changes are based on new nutrition science and emphasize what to look for on the label to make healthier food choices.  The changes, as seen on this label include: 

  • Updated serving sizes to make them more realistic.
  • “Added” sugars will be listed separate from naturally occurring sugar.
  • Vitamin D and potassium will be required.
  • % Daily Value is clearly listed to the left of the nutrient it relates to.
  • A larger print for serving size and calories.  

Once these changes are approved, manufacturers will have two (2) years to comply with these changes. 

To make healthier food choices, look for foods that have “single-digit” grams of fat and sugar, be mindful of portion size, calories and keep the sodium content as low as possible. 

Choose foods that have more fiber, vitamins and minerals by checking the % daily value.  The higher this number, the more nutrient-dense the food is.

Claims on the Food Label
These claims usually draw you to a product but do not tell the whole story.  The FDA regulates three (3) categories of claims that can be used on the label:

Health Claims - shows a relationship between an ingredient and a health-related condition.  This would include a statement such as “soluble fiber from oats reduces the risk of heart disease.”

Nutrient Content Claims - refers to the amount of a nutrient in a food.  Terms that are used include “low fat” or “high fiber”.  This category also can compare the level of a nutrient in a food to another food using terms like “low fat”, “reduced sodium” and “sugar free”.  There are strict rules regulating these nutrient claims.

Structure and Function Claims - describes the role a nutrient or ingredient is intended to affect the body.  Examples include statements like “Calcium builds strong bones” and “Fiber aids in bowel regularity.”

Be careful of these claims. It is best to check the nutrition facts label to make the healthiest food choices.


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