By: Charlotte Miller
Grab your favorite snack and let’s learn about food labels!
Have you ever looked at the nutrition label of one of your favorite foods and wondered what the heck it all meant? Ingredients you can’t pronounce, misleading labeling, and complex nutrition facts. Yikes!
The Nutrition Education and Labeling Act of 1990, legislating the requirements and standards for food labels, requires all food and beverage products to list nutritional facts, ingredients lists, and relevant warnings (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020). Nutrition fact panels include serving size, servings per container, calories, nutrient amounts, and percentage of Daily Values.
There is an ingredient list at the bottom of a nutritional facts panel that is, more often than not, long and confusing. “Ingredients must be listed in descending order of predominance by weight” (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020, p.52), meaning that the first ingredient listed is the most abundant in the food. For example, a granola bar has the first three ingredients listed as: whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil. One of the primary ingredients in this item is sugar, even though it is marketed as a healthy granola bar. This is just one instance of when a food’s title can be deceiving. When making health-conscious choices while grocery shopping, it is helpful to look at the ingredient list and base your judgment on that, as opposed to just simply caloric value, before buying.
Items also have Daily Value percentages (total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carb., total sugar, added sugar, protein, and dietary fiber) that are based on the daily recommended amounts for a 2,000 calorie diet. These numbers can be misleading because everyone’s nutrient needs are different and a 2,000 calorie diet is not applicable for everyone. Be aware of the Daily Value to see the general amount of nutrients you are consuming; but remember, every body needs different amounts of nutrients.
Another section of the label denotes the nutritional claims. There are three types; the first is a nutrient claim, and it is the most reliable as it is regulated by the FDA (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché 2020). These claims advertise the amount of a given vitamin, mineral, or daily essentials (protein, fiber, carbs, etc.) in the product.
Nutrient Claim: “a high-fiber food” or “good source of Vitamin C”.
The second claim is a health claim, which can vary in reliability. These claims link the food and its relation to a disease or health condition to scientifically-based evidence. However, the FDA does not strictly enforce this, so health claims are often based on inadequate research (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020).
Health Claim: “helps lower your cholesterol” or “contains antioxidants to prevent cancers”.
The third claim is a structure-function claim, which is not reliable because it is unregulated by the FDA (Sizer,Whitney, & Piché, 2020). I do not buy a food product solely based on this claim, and neither should you! This claim links a vitamin, mineral, or daily essential to a specific function in the body.
Structure-Function Claim: “calcium builds strong bones” or “supports brain health”.
If you made it this far, you possess the knowledge and information needed to read food labels and nutrient claims, and can decide for yourself what foods are best for you. This is another positive step towards a more holistic health journey- congrats!
What to Look For:
- Daily Value %
- Order of ingredients
- Type of nutritional claim for the reliability
Sizer, F. S., Whitney, E. N., & Piché, L. A. (2020). Nutrition: Concepts and controversies (15th ed.). Toronto, Ontario: Nelson.