Reading Food Labels
by Aishea Maas, Phase IV Director of Exercise Sciences
People are now more concerned than ever regarding what they put in their bodies. Luckily the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires all foods to list the contents and other nutritional information. But reading food labels can be confusing at times. When trying to figure out what is in the food you are buying, you should focus less on what the front of the package says. The manufactures of these products want to catch your eye, so the marketing on the front of the package is often misleading. The fortunate thing is they can’t lie on the label at the back of the package due to rules set by the FDA. When shopping ignore the marketing hype and turn over the package so you can find out what you are really eating. This article will provide valuable information on how to read food labels and guide you on how to make healthy decisions with your purchases.
1. Serving Size
This part of the label indicates the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Serving sizes are based on the amount of food people typically eat. Serving size can be expressed in the following ways - cups, spoons, slices, ounces, and grams. All data on the label is based on the serving size stated. Make sure to pay attention to the amount of servings you are eating. For example, one serving of the food above is 4 oz. If you ate the whole package, you would eat 16 oz. That quadruples the calories, other nutrients (fats, carbs etc.), and the %Daily Values (see below).
2. Calories and Calories from Fat
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a single food serving. The label also tells you how many of the calories in one serving come from fat. For example, when looking at the label there are 280 calories in a serving so there are 130 calories coming from fat. If you ate 2 servings you would consume 560 calories and 260 of those calories would be coming from fat. Rule of thumb is that you should limit the amount of fat (good fats) to no more than 30% of your daily caloric intake.
• 40 calories per serving is considered low;
• 100 calories per serving is considered moderate; and
• 400 calories or more per serving is considered high.
* Based on a 2,000-calorie diet set by the FDA
3. The Nutrients you should limit
The ingredients above are things you should limit in your diet. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, high blood pressure, or cancer.
Total Fat – Is the number of grams of fat per serving of the food.
Saturated Fat - Is solid at room temperature and comes mainly from animal food products and some plants. For example, beef, pork, butter, whole milk, high fat cheese, and palm oil.
Trans Fat - Also referred to as trans fatty acid. Trans fat is a specific type of fat formed when liquid fats are made into solid fats by adding hydrogen atoms. This process is called hydrogenation. It solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils. For example, vegetable shortenings, crackers, cookies and snack foods. Trans fat is an unhealthy fat.
Cholesterol - The American Heart Association recommends that we should eat no more than 300 milligrams a day to maintain a healthy diet.
Sodium/salt - Current dietary guidelines recommend eating less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, or about a teaspoon of table salt.
4. The Nutrients you should get the right amount of.
It is important to get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in your diet. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases.
Total carbohydrates - It is currently suggest that about half your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, so you can determine how many grams of carbohydrates you need base on your calorie intake. Types of carbohydrate include starches, complex carbohydrates (breads, crackers etc.), dietary fiber, added sugar sweeteners, and non-digestible additives. It is recommended that you eat good carbohydrates like, sprouted grain bread, millet, quinoa and brown rice.
Fiber - Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate and aids in elimination. At least 15 grams of fiber per day is recommended.
Protein - Many foods contain some protein but meat, fish, poultry and dairy foods are highest. Protein needs average between 50-100 grams per day.
5. The Percent Daily Value (%DV):
The percent daily value represents the total recommended daily amount of each nutrient (fats, carbs, proteins, major vitamins, and minerals). These percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie diet set by the FDA. The %DV shows you the percent (or how much) of the recommended daily amount of a nutrient in a serving of food to less than 100%DV. When it comes to nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C try to average 100% for each one of these nutrients per day. If you do not know how many calories you consume in a day you can still use the %DV as a basic guideline even if you eat more or less than 2,000 calories each day.
- Nutrients that have no %DV
Trans Fat: Experts could not provide a reference value for trans fat nor any other information that FDA believes is adequate to set up a Daily Value or %DV.
Sugars: No Daily Value has been established because no recommendations have been made for the total amount of sugars to eat in a day.
Protein: A %DV is required to be listed if a claim is made for protein, such as "high in protein". Otherwise, unless the food is meant for use by infants and children under 4 years old, none is needed.
6. Lower part of the Nutrition Facts Panel – Located on the bottom of the label
The lower part of the nutrition label tells you that "Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet…". This information must be on all food labels. If the size of the label is too small the rest of the information may not be on the package. It doesn't change from product to product, because it shows dietary advice for all Americans. For example, look at the Total Fat information: If you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, you should eat less than 65g of fat in all the foods you eat in a day. By doing this, you will follow nutritionists advice to consume no more than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. Because the DV for total fat is "less than 65g," this is the same thing as saying, to keep your total fat intake for the day below 100%DV.
7. List of ingredients
Every packaged food must include a list of ingredients. When an ingredient is the first one on the list it means that it is the largest quantity of food in that particular product and when it is listed last it is the smallest quantity.
8. Misleading words or phrases on food packaging
The FDA also regulates the use of certain words or phrases on food packaging due to misleading terms often put on packages to make it easier to sell their products. Terms used on the new food labels must adhere to the following FDA definitions:
Fresh - Means unprocessed, uncooked, unfrozen. Washing and coating of fruits and vegetables are allowed. If a food has been quickly frozen, it can be described as fresh-frozen (fresh fish).
Healthy - Means the food may contain no more than 3 grams of fat (including one gram of saturated fat) and 60 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.
High - As in high-fiber, means the product has 20 percent or more of the daily value.
Light - Means that the food has half the fat, one-third the calories or half the salt of its regular counterpart. It is still used to describe color or texture as long as the label makes the distinction clear (for example, "light brown sugar" or "light and fluffy").
Low Fat - Can be used on products that do not exceed the dietary guidelines for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium or calories( see guidelines below).
Low-fat: 3 grams or less per serving
Low-saturated fat: 1 gram or less per serving
Low-sodium: 140 milligrams or less per serving
Low-cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
Low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving
Natural flavors - Means that "natural flavors" (approved by The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) are extracts from non-synthetic foods. For example, essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating, or enzymolysis, which contains a flavoring constituent derived from a spice, fruit, fruit juice, vegetable, vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf, or similar plant material; meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products. Their function in food is flavoring and not for nutritional purposes.
Reduced - Means that a nutritionally altered product contains at least 25 percent less of a nutrient or of calories than the regular product.
Fat-Free or Sugar-Free – Means a calorie-free product must have fewer than five calories per serving, while fat-free and cholesterol-free foods should have less than half a gram per serving. Words like "without," "no" and "zero," have to meet the same standards. For example, when a food is labeled 80 percent "fat-free." This means that twenty percent of the total weight of the food is fat.
Good Source - Means that one serving of the food contains 10 to 19 percent of the daily value for a particular nutrient.
Lean - Is used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry and seafood. A serving of the product must have less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. "Extra lean" is defined to mean less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
Less and fewer - Describes foods that have a nutrient or calorie content which is reduced by at least 25 percent.
Phase IV nutrition experts can help you by creating a specific nutrition and meal plan based on your specific physiological needs in order to attain your body goals. Remember that all food labels are based on a 2000 calorie diet but remember that not everyone needs the same amount of calories. Don’t guess! Find your exact caloric needs by doing a Resting Metabolic Rate test @ Phase IV. This test precisely measures your metabolic rate and tells you how many calories YOU burn throughout the day including the percentage of fats and carbohydrates. This tells you whether your body prefers to use fats as its main source of fuel or carbohydrates; everyone’s goal should be to be a “Better Butter Burner” and utilize your body’s ability to use fats as its primary fuel source not just in exercise but throughout the day. Your RMR is determined by measuring the oxygen you consume during the test, how many calories you are burning all day. With this information we arrive at how many calories you should eat a day to lose weight or support your activities. This test will tell you if your metabolism is slow, normal, and fast and offers you basic guidelines on helping you reach your goal weight.