The 9 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid When Reading a Food Label
Fat, Sugar, Sodium and Carbohydrate
The sections on a food label shows the name of a nutrient and the
amount of that nutrient provided by one serving of food. You may
need to know this information, especially if you have high blood
pressure, diabetes or are eating a diet that restricts certain
nutrients such as sodium or carbohydrates.
Food labels also include information about how much sugar and
protein is in the food. If you are following a low-sugar diet or
you're monitoring your protein intake, it's easy to spot how much
of those nutrients are contained in one serving.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Information
The light purple part of the label lists nutrients, vitamins and
minerals in the food and their percent daily values. Try to
average 100% DV every day for vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and
fiber. Do the opposite with fat, saturated fat, sodium and
cholesterol. Try to eat less than 100% DV of these.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Reading a Food Label
Until you become accustomed to reading food labels, it's easy to
become confused. Avoid these common mistakes when reading
-A label may say that the food is reduced fat or reduced sodium.
That means that the amount of fat or sodium has been reduced by
25% from the original product. It doesn't mean, however, that the
food is low in fat or sodium. For example, if a can of soup
originally had 1,000 milligrams of sodium, the reduced sodium
product would still be a high-sodium food.
-Don't confuse the % DV for fat with the percentage of calories
from fat. If the % DV is 15% that doesn't mean that 15% of the
calories comes from fat. Rather, it means that you're using up
15% of all the fat you need for a day with one serving (based on
a meal plan of 2,000 calories per day).
-Don't make the mistake of assuming that the amount of sugar on a
label means that the sugar has been added. For example, milk
naturally has sugar, which is called lactose. But that doesn't
mean you should stop drinking milk because milk is full of other
important nutrients including calcium.
Reading Label Lingo
In addition to requiring that packaged foods contain a Nutrition
Facts label, the FDA also regulates the use of phrases and terms
used on the product packaging. Here's a list of common phrases
you may see on your food packaging and what they actually mean.
No fat or fat free - Contains less than 1/2 gram of fat per
serving Lower or reduced fat: Contains at least 25 percent less
per serving than the reference food. (An example might be reduced
fat cream cheese, which would have at least 25 percent less fat
than original cream cheese.)
Low fat - Contains less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Lite - Contains 1/3 the calories or 1/2 the fat per serving of
the original version or a similar product.
No calories or calorie free - Contains less than 5 calories per
Low calories - Contains 1/3 the calories of the original version
or a similar product.
Sugar free - Contains less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving.
Reduced sugar - at least 25% less sugar per serving than the
No preservatives - Contains no preservatives (chemical or
No preservatives added - Contains no added chemicals to preserve
the product. Some of these products may contain natural
Low sodium - Contains less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving.
No salt or salt free - Contains less than 5 mgs of sodium per
High fiber - 5 g or more per serving (Foods making high-fiber
claims must meet the definition for low fat, or the level of
total fat must appear next to the high-fiber claim).
Good source of fiber - 2.5 g to 4.9 g. per serving.
More or added fiber - Contains at least 2.5 g more per serving
than the reference food.
With a little practice, you will be able to put your new found
knowledge about food labeling to work. Reassess your diet and
decide what needs to be changed. Start by eliminating the foods
that don't measure-up to your nutritional wants and needs, and
replacing them with more nutritional substitutes.
And while you're at it, visit the FDA website and learn about the
new labeling requirements, including those for "trans" fat. Like
saturated fats, trans fats can raise levels of low-density
lipoproteins (LDL) and increase your risk of heart disease. The
"Nutrition Facts" panel on food packaging must provide this
information beginning January 1, 2006, but most manufacturers
will start providing it sooner.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes
only and is not intended to medically diagnose, treat or cure any
disease. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any
health care program.
Emily Clark is editor at www.lifestyle
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