Food Labeling

2 Feb

My eight year old son the other day, after looking at the Nutrition Facts on a product (yes, my children check the labels!!) advised me that it would be okay for him and his sister to eat that particular food.  I took the package and instead of reading the Nutrition Facts, turned to read the Ingredients and told him that the product he wanted to eat and share with his sister had too much sugar and unknown ingredients and I didn’t want them putting that stuff in to their bodies.  He asked me why the government would lie about the nutrition on food packages – a very good question!  I tried to explain to him that it isn’t a lie but it doesn’t really tell us the whole truth.  A little complicated for an eight year old to grasp but that conversation inspired me to write about it here and hopefully shed some light on this issue.

Although the North American population is still grossly overweight (approximately 34% of adult Americans and 17% of children are obese)1, people are becoming more aware that we need to make healthier choices.  Part of this health awareness involves reading food labels on packaged goods.  Most of us read the Nutrition Facts on products and put a lot of faith in what we read on the side of that box.  We figure since the information is regulated by the government then it has to be true, right?  Well, there’s truth and then there’s the whole picture.  There are things you should know about what can be misleading on a food label that could be affecting your health.

Serving Size – the Nutrition Facts on the side of a box are based on a serving size…not the entire package.  The serving size is NOT the recommended amount that you should eat but a reference number upon which everything else rests.

DV% (Percentage of Daily Value) – this percentage is based on a 2000 calorie per day diet.  Definitely not the average caloric intake by North American standards.  Be sure you know how many calories are right for you.

If you want my advice (and I assume you do otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my blog), I recommend reading the ingredients listed on the package as opposed to focusing all your attention on the Nutrition Facts.  Nutrition facts can be a bit misleading.  One good example involves the misinformation about saturated fats (the “bad” fat).  According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), if there is less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat present in a serving of a product, the amount shown on the package would be zero on the Nutrition Label.  Not entirely true, is it?  And with recent studies reminding us that the goal of eating less fat should focus on saturated fat because of its direct relationship to LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol and heart disease risk, it really makes sense to know what you’re putting in your body.

Another rule of thumb I like to follow is that if there are more than five ingredients listed on the package, I don’t buy it.  The more processed a food is, the more likely that it is not good for you.  Some may say I am too picky and I am.  I care about what I put in to my body and in to the bodies of my two little children whose future health pretty much lies solely in my hands.  But I will save that topic for another day.  In the meantime, Buyer Beware!!  Make sure you know what you’re eating before you go ahead and make purchases on items you think are going to help you achieve better health.

Look at the ingredients listed on the product sample below.  By taking a first glance at the box you think it is a healthy food choice because the word Fiber is in the name of the product and it claims to be “Whole Grain Guaranteed”.  You then read the Nutrition Facts and think at only 160 calories it’s a wise choice.  Keep in mind that the 160 calories is for a single serving size of 1 cup and that doesn’t include the milk.  Now look at the ingredients.  I don’t know about you but until I researched some of the ingredients listed on here, I had no clue what they were.  Not to mention that there are about 25 ingredients listed on this package!   If that hasn’t stopped you from buying it yet then take a closer look at the ingredients.  How many times do you see the word sugar?  Did you know that all of the following ingredients listed are also types of sugar – malt, inulin, fructose, molasses, sucralose, artificial flavor.  That’s a heck of a lot of sugar in something that is supposed to be healthy if you ask me.  Oh yes, and trisodium phosphate?  That is also used as a cleaning agent.  Do you still think this box of cereal is healthy?  Think again.

I am not trying to discredit any particular company here or tell you what to eat or not eat.  I am simply trying to point out that, as health conscious consumers, we need to be more aware of what we are consuming and how certain labels can be misleading.  Knowledge is power.  Educate yourself.  You will be much happier and healthier for it.

Have a fit and fabulous day!

Lisa

1 Statistics from the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention 2011

Canadian Government site:  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/index-eng.php

FDA site (Section 7 deals specifically with Nutrition Labeling):  http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/default.htm

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