What Does The Packaging Really Tell Us?
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Light? Low? Free?
There is a lot of lingo thrown at us in the grocery store. From oatmeal magically lowering cholesterol to fat-free peanut butter? Can this be?! These explanations will help you to discover what the labels mean so you can choose the best option. I highly recommend going to fooducate or downloading the app- you can look up products and see how healthy they are, quick and easy!
Descriptions of Nutrient Claims
Free - no amount of or a trivial amount of calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium; calorie-free is defined as less than 5 calories per serving
Good source - is defined as 10-19% of daily value of a certain nutrient per serving
High - is defined as more than 20% of daily value of a certain nutrient per serving
Less - is defined as containing 25% less of a certain nutrient than a standard food
Light - is defined as containing 1/3 less calories or 1/2 fat of a standard food (is this a good thing!? beware of crazy ingredients on the label that you don't recognize, it is likely a fake sweetener that is illegal in other countries and linked to cancer!)
Low - is defined in certain nutrient terms
Low Fat - 3 grams or less per serving
Low Saturated Fat - 1 gram or less per serving
Low Sodium - 140 mg or less per serving
Low Calorie - 40 calories or less per serving
More - is defined as containing 10% of nutrient daily value when compared to a standard food
Beware of TRANS FAT
Aka hydrogenated oils or mono or diglycerides on the ingredients label. Food labels are allowed to say that they have 0g trans fat per serving if there is less than 0.5g trans fat per serving. However, it is likely that the serving size is ridiculously small (like on non-stick cooking spray). If you see hydrogenated oil or mono or di glycerides I would not recommend purchasing the product. Find a brand with zero hydrogenated oils (partially hydrogenated and fully hydrogenated), and for peanut butter, one ingredient only: peanuts.
Organic Or Natural?
Natural: a product that has no artificial ingredient or added color and is minimally processed. Although consumers purchasing “natural” meat, poultry, and eggs can be happy that there are no artificial ingredients or colors added, it's important to remember “natural” does not mean hormone-free or antibiotic-free; these are separate labels, also regulated by the USDA.
Organic: certified organic and contain at least 95% organic content. Organic food is produced using approved organic farming methods “that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Specifically, “synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used” to produce organic food, meaning that organic food products are not genetically modified and have not been treated with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers
You know, those numbers that every food in the produce department has? They mean something!
4 digit codes: conventionally grown
5 digit code that starts with a '9' : organically grown
5 digit code that starts with a '8' : Genetically Modified Organism *avoid* unfortunately, I have never seen this used. GMOs are secretive and discretely used in packaged items as corn and soy oil. Good luck to us Americans! Hope GMOs are clearly labeled soon!
Food Label Health Claims
Foods making health claims must follow the following criteria:
- Must be a naturally good source of at least one of the following nutrients - vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber
- Foods containing more than 20% daily value of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium cannot carry health claims
Examples of Food Label Health Claims:
- Calcium reducing osteoporosis
- Fat increasing cancer risk
- Fiber containing products such as vegetables, fruits, grains reducing cancer risk
- Fiber containing products reducing heart disease risk
- Fruits and vegetables reducing cancer risk
- Folic acid preventing neural tube defects in babies
- Saturated fat and cholesterol and increasing heart disease risk
- Sodium increasing hypertension risk
- Whole grains reducing heart disease & cancer risk
- Sugar alcohols reducing tooth decay risk
- Soluble fiber reducing heart disease risk
- Soy protein reducing heart disease risk
- Plant sterol reducing heart disease risk
- Potassium reducing hypertension & stroke risk
Foods that are exempt from the label include foods in very small packages, foods prepared in the store, and foods made by small manufacturers.
The Nutrition Facts
Facts labels tell you the serving size and the amount of various nutrients, such as total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber per serving.
• Serving Size: This reflects the amount that an average person eats at one helping or serving.
• Servings per package: The next line tells you how many servings the package contains. Multiply this number by the serving size and it should equal, or come close to, the total volume of the package.
• Total fat: This line tells you how many grams of fat are in one serving. If a product is labeled low-fat, it will have 3 grams or less per serving. Aim for 2-3 grams per serving, or 20-30 grams of fat per day.
(There are 9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrate.)
• Cholesterol: Only animal products have cholesterol. If there is any cholesterol (anything other than 0 grams) you can assume the food has some sort of animal product in it like milk, whey, egg or casein.
This can be especially important to read when buying processed "vegetarian" foods as they may contain egg or milk products.
• Fiber: Look for minimally processed, high-fiber foods. Aim for 40+ grams of fiber per day. (The average American only consumes 15 grams per day.)
Remember the Five to One or Less Rule
Ratio of grams of carbohydrates to grams of dietary fiber.
Divide the carbohydrates by the dietary fiber.
Look for five to one or less.
• Sugar: Look for foods that have 6 grams of sugar or less. corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, cane juice, and evaporated cane juice, are all forms of sugar.
• Ingredients: Ingredients are listed in order, starting with those found in the largest amounts, by weight, and progressing to those present in the smallest amounts. Here you can find out if a food contains eggs, milk, sugar, oils, or whatever else you want to avoid eating. Sometimes you will see there are multiple forms of sugars listed, this is because if they did not break it up into different forms sugar would be listed as the first ingredient. When you see this, the best decision is to place the product back on the shelf.
• Important: Casein, caseinate, lactalbumin, whey or whey solids, milk solids or low-fat milk solids are all derived from cow's milk. Albumin comes from eggs. Don't be fooled...these are also found in products labels as vegetarian.
We hope you learned something new! If you have any suggestions or questions, please make a private consultation with the link above, join our inner circle, or check out our facebook page. Have fun grocery shopping!