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Friday, April 30, 2010

What Do You Look For in A Food Label?

When you look at a food label what are you looking to see? I never really know but in an effort to make sure my family eats well I decided to delve a little deeper into the topic. I found a good bit of information and thought I would share.

So, the first thing I will point out is the serving size. This is probably the most important part of the food label as it sets the stage for how to interpret the entire rest of the label. I am pretty good about remembering to multiply the calories by the serving size but I am definitely guilty of forgetting that this multiplication also applies to everything else listed on the label. One component of prepackaged foods that I really want to watch is the sodium. Cans of soup are often bad about having a ton of sodium in them and after you multiply the percentage by the serving size the results can be pretty alarming! Of course all of these numbers are based on a 2000 calorie/day diet which may or may not be the right kind of diet for you. If you would like to find out how many calories you should be getting in a day use this really cool calorie counter to help http://nutrition.about.com/od/changeyourdiet/a/calguide.htm It will even tell you what you need to do to get to your goal weight with and without exercise. You really have to check it out!

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires that food companies publish values for Iron, Calcium and vitamins A and C. Some companies may include information about other nutrients like folic acid and niacin if they are contained in measurable amounts.

I was also interested in exactly what standards have to be met by a food in order to be able to make a claim like “fat free” or “low sodium.” Here is what I found at http://www.healthcare.uiowa.edu/fns/nutritional/foodlabel.htm :
· Fat Free- less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving
· Low Fat- 3 grams of fat (or less) per serving
· Lean- Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and no more than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving
· Light (Lite)- 1/3 less calories or no more than ½ the fat of the higher-calorie, higher-fat version; or no more than ½ the sodium of the higher-sodium version
· Cholesterol Free- Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat per serving


To Make Health Claims About... The Food Must Be...
Heart Disease and Fats Low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol
Blood Pressure and Sodium Low in sodium

So you can rely on the claims made by food companies knowing that they actually do have a well defined set of standards to adhere to.

A couple of other things of note:
· Look for foods low in calories from fat as this is best for a healthy heart.
· Look at the amount of saturated fat in the food you eat. Doing so and keeping the number low will help keep your cholesterol low and avoid heart disease.
· Try to eat less than 300mg of sodium daily. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure so try and keep the amount of sodium you eat daily as low as possible.
· Fiber is good for you
· The source of your protein could also carry with it some fat that you do not need. Try to get protein from a low fat source such as beans.

There are a couple of good sources of information out there but they all say similar things. Just try to read the label and stay healthy!