Friday, October 7, 2011

Food Facts Friday: Nutrition Fact Labels

When someone comes to me because their child is struggling with food and fitness issues, my heart aches for them. They don't know where to turn and it's sad. Mostly, I hear from Mom's who want to help their struggling teen, but are afraid to say the wrong things because they are afraid to make things worse.

This week, I got an e-mail from the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) dietary practice group. They were promoting their FREE "Teens Eat Right" handouts and I had to have them, immediately!

After reading these handouts, I found out that:
  • 30% of our American teens are either overweight or obese
  • Most teens only eat 1/2 of the required 5-A-Day fruits and vegetables
  • There are 17 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle of soda (YIKES!)
One particular handout talked about food labels.
I started to wonder:
How many adults, never mind teens, know how to read a food label?

The US Food & Drug Association has a VERY thorough explanation on how to read Consumer Nutrition Fact Labels. I have gone to this website more than anyone would care to know. Still, I always feel there is some kind of disconnect between:

 "What the label says"
"What the label means"

Trying to make sense of it all, I started to hear that little voice in my head: 
"Just tell me what I need to know to eat healthy!" 

Besides, who has the time when grocery shopping - after work or between carting the kids from one activity to the next - to stand there and read food labels?

That's why this one handout was so great - it hit some great points and I feel so fortunate to be able to share them here:

  • First, check the serving size to determine how many servings per container/package.
  • Multiply calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat values by the serving size to get the total amount for the whole package.
  • "Low Calorie" means 40 calories or less per serving.
  • "Low Sodium" has <140mg per serving.
  • "High Sodium" has >480mg per serving, which is common in processed foods.
  • "High in Fiber" foods contain at least 3g of fiber per serving.
  • "Sugar" means "simple sugar". If something says it has "X" grams of "sugar" divide that by 4 to get the number of teaspoons (of sugar). So, if a label says "sugar=16g" , it has 4 teaspoons of sugar. 
  • Shoot for < 3grams of sugar per serving.
  • The average 2000-calorie diet for a healthy adult should contain between 50g-175g of protein per day.
  • Cholesterol: Look for 15mg per serving or less on packaged foods. Aim for no more than 50-60mg per meal and around 200mg per day.
  • Low fat means there are 3g or less of total fat per 100-calories.
  • Aim for food low in saturated fat. Nutrition Fact labels will show a % Daily Value (DV): Shoot for foods with showing a DV of about 5% saturated fat.
  • Avoid foods with trans fat ALTOGETHER.
If a food has partially hydrogenated oil in its ingredients list, it contains trans fat
Here's the Twist
If a product has less than 0.5g or less per serving, companies are not required to show that the food includes "trans fat" on the Nutrition Facts label. Although 0.5g doesn't seem like a big deal - think again - this stuff can add up - especially if you are munching down multiple servings of nutrition, energy or breakfast bars, chips, cookies or crackers! Why is trans fat frowned upon - because it raises your LDL cholesterol, which promotes cardiovascular disease.

I also found some cool "Shopping Tactics" posted by Marissa Lippert, RD. These helpful hints are designed as a basic guideline to help decode food labels, even when the product claims to be "all-natural" or "healthy". Ms. Lippert suggests avoiding foods if:
  • It has 3 or more ingredients that you can't pronounce.
  • Any of the ingredients on the food label end in -ol or -ose; this usually means it's probably an artificial sweetener (malitol, sorbitol and sucralose).
  • It claims to be sugar-free, fat-free, low-carbs or double fiber.
  • It contains: high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.
High fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils are two of my pet peeves! I don't like feeling as if I am an ignorant consumer and can be deceived into believing something is good for me because it is marketed as an "all-natural", "healthy" or "high energy" product.

If we, as adults, put forth an effort to understand food labels, we can help our children understand food labels - giving them the power to make healthy decisions and
Train Smart Today!
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