Since 1990 the FDA requires almost all foods to come with Nutrition Facts. Here are some of the secrets to understanding those labels:
- You have to understand that a “serving size” isn’t the portion you decide to eat. A serving size is just a reference. So that’s great if you think your serving should be six cookies, the label is still telling you that the serving size is three cookies, so you better multiply all of those amounts by two!
- Just because a label tells you it is “made with real fruit,” that doesn’t mean you are eating fruit. When you see the ingredient list, the main ingredient is the first one, and as you go down the list, the amount of that ingredient is less and less. So when you see “real fruit,” you will probably find there is fruit really far down on that list. There can be a minuscule amount and still earn the right to market themselves as having “real fruit.” You are probably eating sugar.
- Here’s an example: One serving of Multi-grain Wheat Thins (17 crackers) provides 2 grams of fiber. Whole wheat flour is the 3rd ingredient in these crackers; the “multi-grains” (including oats, whole wheat, millet, rye, and barley) are further down the label. A better cracker: Reduced-fat Triscuits have 120 calories and 3 grams of fat per 7 crackers, and twice the fiber of the Wheat Thins.
- When you see percentages they are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Keep that in mind.
- On meat that is 93/7 for fat percentage means the 7% recommended the weight of fat compared to meat, not that it’s only 7% fat.
- Those convenient frozen meals are great in theory; you know exactly how many calories you are getting, and sure they are quick and easy, but they pack in the sodium. How else do you think they stay “fresh” for so long? That sodium and preservatives will bloat you and it’s not good for you. And on top of all that, there have been articles published that say many of those meals have underestimated their calories printed on the labels by 29%!!!
- Carbohydrates: A high amount of carbs is not a bad thing. It’s the processed sugar carbohydrates that you want to watch out for.
- If you ever see the “Smart Choices” label don’t just assume it’s healthy. That program has been under a lot of heat lately and companies have begun pulling it from their packaging. It’s been rumored to have been a program designed by product manufacturers themselves and is not associated with the FDA .
Then there’s all the lovely terms that products use to market themselves to make buyers believe they are healthy. Here’s some examples:
- Natural : The 1993 FDA policy states that it, “has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Use of the term ‘natural’ is not permitted in a product’s ingredient list, with the exception of the phrase ‘natural flavorings.”
- Whole: People see that word and associate it with a healthier, like whole grains or whole wheat. But there is no regulation on using this word.
- Organic: There are different levels of what the term can mean. The USDA defines organic as meaning meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods are produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. A government-approved certified must inspect the farm to ensure these standards are met. In addition to organic farming, there are USDA standards for organic handling and processing. – If it’s “100% organic” that means it’s completely organic or made of completely organic products. – If it’s “organic” that means at least 95% of it’s ingredients are certified organic. – If it’s “made with organic ingredients” that means at least 95% of it’s ingredients are certified organic.
If you wanna be safe and make the best eating decisions stick to the meat, dairy, seafood and produce sections of your market. When you are buying eggs or spinach, you know exactly what your ingredients are!
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