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The nutrition facts label (also known as the nutrition information panel, and various other slight variations) is a label required on most pre-packaged foods in North America, United Kingdom and other countries.
Making sure your family eats foods that supply their daily nutritional needs can be a challenge in most households. Never before have we had such a variety of food from which to choose. And never before have we had less time to shop, compare, and increase our knowledge of the nutritional values of these foods. Store shelves are filled with colorful cans, bottles, packages…generics, private labels, brand names…shipped and imported fruits and vegetables…pre-packaged meals, frozen dinners, deli-counters, salad bars…and more. Consumers’ habits have also changed. We have become a “grab-and-go” generation when it comes to our meals. That is, we either grab a “meal” at a fast-food restaurant or order “take-out” and bring our meal home with us. Even when we prepare meals at home, the emphasis is often on “quick” rather than nutritious. Consumers today have a multitude of choices where diet and nutrition are concerned, yet we often find ourselves staring at a confusing array of food products all vying for our attention. Which products have the best nutrition for our dollar? Which ones contain elements that we want to avoid for dietary or health reasons? Is “reduced fat ” the same as “low in fat?” In 1990, the United States government enacted a law designed to assist consumers
with dietary decisions. Under the National Labeling and Education Act, processed food products were required to present nutrition information in a standardized form. The videotape Understanding Nutrition Labeling and this supplement will help explain that law. Throughout the supplement “calories” refer to the more accurate term, “kilocalories.”
Background: Up until about the mid 1900’s, our main health concerns were in getting a sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals to prevent nutrition deficiency diseases. This next phase of nutrition interest focuses on preventing health problems. We have discovered that almost 70% of our health problems are caused by lifestyle choices, and many of those have to do with our diets. Reading and using the nutrition label information is one way we can help decrease the rates of coronary heart diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, obesity, and allergic reactions to foods. In the late 1970’s, consumers began requesting more nutritional information, and the government and food companies responded by listing the ingredients of food products. New information gleamed from nutrition and the medical fields called for
new dietary guidelines that were taught in classrooms. Nutrition labeling was required for fortified foods and for food which made a specific nutritional claim, such as “supplies all your daily needs for vitamin C.” In 1990 the United States government agency, through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), enacted a federal law to assist consumers with dietary
decisions. Under the National Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), packaged food products are required to present nutrition information in a standardized form. The USDA and FDA now also require nutrition labeling on all processed meat and poultry products. Presently, label contents address chronic disease prevention. The contents of the label will change as dietary and health information or needs change. For example, percentages of niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin are no longer required because we no longer have the health problems they related to—certainly a nutrition a success story. The idea behind the label will not change, for consumers will always want to have the information they need to make wise nutrition choices.
Consumer benefits: Label requirements allow a
consumer to look at the food label and judge whether or not this particular food meets that person’s dietary needs. Here are some consumer benefits gained through the NLEA law: 1. If the product makes a health claim, it must be explained. For example, if a food product claims to be “high in fiber,” the amount of the fiber must be stated on the label. Similarly, a product that adds a nutrient must state so on the food label. 2. Dietary concerns are easier to locate. For example, people with high blood pressure who seek low-sodium foods will be able to quickly check the sodium level of the food product. 3. Definitions are more uniform and standard. Consumers are better able to compare like and unlike products for nutritional claims such as “low sodium,” for nutritional additives such as “enriched” or “fortified,” and descriptive words such as “fresh.”
Reading the Nutrition Label
1. Heading: “Nutrition Facts” is written large and bold to catch the 2. Serving: A serving size is given in both household and metric units. A
standard normal serving size is required so similar products produced by different manufacturers can be compared on an equal basis. However, if you consume more than the stated serving size, you also need to recalculate the proper percentages according to the amount actually consumed. Servings per container indicate how many servings are in the package.
3. Nutrients: Presently there are 14 components required on the
nutrition label. These will be covered in this supplement. The 14 components include information most wanted by today’s consumer so they can reduced the amount of fat, sodium, and cholesterol in their diets. 4. % Daily Value: The percent daily value column lets the consumer know how the product fits into the overall daily diet, because the grams, milligrams, and other units can sometimes be confusing. For example, a consumer might avoid a product containing 110 milligrams of sodium because 110 seems like a high number, yet in reality it is a “low sodium” food. The Percent Daily Value of 5% reassures the consumer that 110 milligrams is well within the daily range for sodium. On the other hand, a food containing 15 grams of total fat, a seemingly small number, is actually so high in fat that it requires a heath disclosure statement. The % DV number is calculated to cover all age and gender groups (except pregnant and lactating women) so may not fit your exact nutritional needs. An asterisk (*) refers you to this
statement: “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” 5. Standard Calorie Reference: At the bottom portion of the Nutrition Facts label you will see a listing for of the maximum number of grams/milligrams for (typically) total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, as well as the RDA for total carbohydrates and dietary fiber for a 2,000 calorie diet. Many labels also include a 2,500 calorie diet that is more applicable to men, teens, and active adults. These sample caloric needs are applicable to general, healthy groups, not individuals. They are not applicable to people who need less of that nutrient, who are trying to reduce weight, who must restrict their intake of a specific nutrient, infants, those who are ill or who have injuries, or people who take medication to correct medical conditions. 6. Conversion Guide: Calories are given for 1 gram of fat, carbohydrate, and protein so consumers can use the correct caloric values of these nutrients. 7. Other Information: The Nutrition Facts label might also contain the name of the product, manufacturer or producer information, weight or count, and ingredients (in decreasing order of concentration by weight). Nutritional claims (covered in each section and in the next page) can also be included on the label.
READING A NUTRITION LABEL
1. Heading 2. Serving Information 3. Nutrients 4. % Daily Value 5. Reference 6. Conversion Guide Diet (2,000
kcal and 2,500 kcal
“Nutrition Facts” Food Label Exemptions
• Single ingredient fresh or frozen raw meat, poultry, unpackaged seafood. • Raw, unpackaged fruits and vegetables. • Foods of no nutritional significance. • Foods sold to and sold at restaurants or restaurant-type services. • Foods prepared on-site and sold through self-service counters or behind deli counters. • Foods shipped in bulk form. • Foods for institutional use. • Food sold by small companies or produced only in small amounts each year (after May 1997= fewer than 100 employees and produce fewer than 100,000 units). • Products sold in very small packages (nutritional information must be available by phone or mail). • Infant foods and medical foods (both regulated by other laws). Manufacturers may choose to provide nutrition facts on a voluntary basis even if they are exempt, but they must follow the regulations if they decide to use a label.
One of the best ways to make healthy dietary choices is to read food labels. Packaged foods and beverages carry labels that offer all of the information that you will need to determine whether or not that food is good, from a nutritional standpoint. Food labeling has become much more consistent in recent years and the labels are becoming easier to understand.
Food labels will include a complete list of ingredients, which can be helpful in a number of ways. First of all, the ingredients are listed in order according to quantity. This means that if the first ingredient listed on the package is flour and the second ingredient is oil, the product has more flour than oil. Ingredient listings can also help you to determine the quality of a product -- for example, children's fruity snacks sometimes have no actual fruit at all. People with food allergies should be diligent when reading the ingredients listing.
Food labels list serving sizes so that you can tell how much of the product counts as one serving. For example, if the serving size is listed as two cookies and you eat four, you will need to double all of the other statistics on the label to figure out what you just put into your body -- twice the sugar, twice the fat, etc. The label will also tell you how many servings are in the whole package.
Calories and Calories from Fat
Calories are units of energy. Food labels will not only tell you how many calories a product contains, but just as importantly, how many of those calories come from fat. Ideally, most of your calories will come from sources other than fat.
Percent of Daily Value
A healthy diet is one that is rich in nutrients. A quick look at the food label will tell you if the product gives you important nutrients that your body needs. There are recommendations for vitamins and minerals that people should try to eat every day in order to stay healthy -- the percent of daily value figures will help you to determine how close you are to fulfilling your body's daily needs. Typically, these percentages are listed for adults; kids needs will vary based on their age, size, activity level, and overall health status.
Total fat indicates the number of fat grams per serving. While it s important to have some fat in your diet, too much isn't healthy. Additionally, the food label will tell you whether the food contains saturated, unsaturated, or trans fats. Unsaturated fats are healthier for your body than the other two.
Most of the cholesterol that your body needs is produced by your liver. Cholesterol is an important source of vitamin D, but it important to get the cholesterol that you need from healthy sources.
Small amounts of sodium are needed to keep proper body fluid balance, among other uses. Almost all foods naturally contain a little bit of sodium, and processes foods often contain a lot.
Carbohydrates are your body's best source of energy. Food labels will tell you not only the total carbohydrates, but also how many are from sugar and how many come from dietary fibre or other sources. It is best to choose fibre-dense carbohydrates rather than simple sugars. Sugary foods are often high in calories but low in nutritional value. Typically, a child should get about 60% of their daily calories from good sources of carbohydrates.
Most of the body is made up of protein, including muscles, skin, and the immune system. Foods high in protein include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, soybeans, and dried beans.
Vitamin A and Vitamin C
Vitamins A and C are two very important parts of a healthy diet. Vitamin A is needed for good eyesight and healthy skin. It's found naturally in orange or dark leafy green vegetables. The body needs vitamin C to fight infection and heal wounds. Vitamin C is plentiful in citrus fruits as well as in some other fruits and vegetables.
Calcium is best known for its role in building healthy bones and teeth. Milk and other dairy products are good sources of calcium, as are green leafy veggies. Many manufacturers of orange juice and yogurt are now fortifying their products with calcium. Pre-teens and teenagers need a significant amount of calcium in their diets, more than younger children or adults.
Iron is used by the body to maintain healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Teenage girls and women need more iron in their diets than boys and men. Red meat is the best source of iron, but it is also found in iron-fortified cereals, raisins, and dark, leafy vegetables.
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