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The real truth about labels

By By Patty Swearingen / MSU extension service county director
May 16, 2004
At my home, we have been trying to cut back on the amount of carbohydrates that we intake. But when I go to the grocery store it can be real confusing if I am not careful to read the labels.
In today's world you need to read the labels to truly know what you are getting when you buy food. Many marketing groups are playing the "Low Carb" angle to sell foods for a higher price. The question is "Are They Really Worth the Extra Money?" Here are some label reading facts for you to use in making your decision.
Food labels now carry an up-to-date, easy-to-use nutrition information guide, which is required on almost all packaged foods (compared to about 60 percent of products until now). The guide serves as a key to help in planning a healthy diet.
The title, "Nutrition Facts," indicates the label contains the required information. The label contains the following items:
Serving size: It is a measurement uniform across product lines and reflects the amounts people actually eat. (Please note that because a label shows3⁄4 cup as a serving it does not mean that is a dietary serving. The dietary serving may be a1⁄2 cup serving. The label shows industry standards for the amount "most" people eat.)
Example: A slice of bread is a standard. Some labels show 2 slices as a serving because most people will eat 2 slices of bread.
Calories: The amount of total calories per serving.
Example: 80 calories for one slice of bread.
Calories from fat: The portion of total calories that comes from fat. (A low-fat food product by definition is one where1⁄3 of the total calories are from fat.)
Example: 15 calories from fat of the total 80 calories in one slice of bread.
Total fat: Shown on the food label to help consumers meet dietary guidelines that recommend people get no more than 30 percent of their calories from fat. Labels always show the saturated fat grams. They are associated with heart disease and other health risks. Some labels will also show monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat grams. The higher these fats the better because they have been shown as a good part of a healthy diet.
The nutrients that are listed cover those most important to the health of today's consumer.
Cholesterol: List the milligrams of cholesterol found in the serving size listed on the label.
Sodium: Lists the milligrams of sodium found in the serving size listed on the label.
Total carbohydrates: Lists the amount of carbohydrate grams found in the serving size listed on the label. (With the current trend in low-carb diets this is a very important area to review. Many naturally low carbohydrate foods are being marketed under special labels. This marketing plan adds to the cost of a food product.)
Example: Sliced bread I found three breads at a local market. Two were name brands and one was a store brand. Name brand #1 had 8 g per slice for $2.75; name brand #2 had 9 g per slice and was $2.49. The store brand had no special labels and had 18 g per serving for $1.19 per loaf. At first glance, the name brands appear to be the better bread. Not true in this case. The differences? The store brand serving was 2 slices, which equals 9 g per slice. You wouldn't have known this unless you had read the "nutrition facts" label.
Under "Total Carbohydrates," look for Dietary Fiber and Sugars when reading labels. In moderation only, have foods high in simple sugars since they are usually high in calories with little nutritional value. Do choose foods high in Dietary Fiber. Fiber has been linked to reducing risk factors for many health issues such as cancer.
Protein: Lists grams of protein found in the serving size listed on the label.
Other nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron are listed on the label because they are shown by research as most lacking in the American diet.
Daily values: It shows how a food fits into the overall daily diet. It is based on a diet of 2,000 and 2,500 calories and is listed on all labels.
Hopefully, this will answer some of your questions about the food label. If you would like to receive a free copy of "Understanding Today's Food Label" n Publication 1908, please call your local Extension Service or in Lauderdale County call 482-9764.