The New Food Label & How To Read It
Earlier this summer the FDA revealed the new nutrition facts label. Finally!! (insert dietitian’s cries of relief)
Food labels can be one of the most confusing things to the average person. There are great marketing companies that can add more misunderstanding while someone is trying to find a product that won’t kill them. At least 5 times a day, someone is tossing something at me asking me to read the label and let them know if it’s ‘okay’. It is my hope (and job) to be sure that you can walk through a grocery store confidently and make healthy decisions.
The idea of the new label is to make it easier for the consumer to make better food choices. Before we explore the new updates, let’s break down how to read a label in the easiest way:
The first thing to look at on the label is the serving size.
A common mistake people make is that something in a package is ONE serving. They’ll quickly look and say ‘only 100 calories for this!’ when, in reality, there may be 2 +servings in the bag. Usually, the serving sizes are SMALL…like who eats a half cup of ice cream?
The new label will bump up the serving sizes to more realistic servings. For example, soda is changing from 8 oz to 12 oz, and ice cream is changing from ½ cup to 2/3 cup. I’m still probably eating at least a cup but progress is progress…. By law, serving sizes have to be based on the actual amounts people are eating, not the ideal amount they ‘should be’ eating.
Now I’m going to introduce to you the fab 5 rule. This is a quick and easy way to navigate through the labels of the hundreds of food products in the store.
Move right down the label to total fat. (Notice how we skipped over calories because we aren’t calorie counters- we count nutrients. Refer to my video here regarding why calories are not created equal)
Let’s look for a product with less than 5g of fat. The fats you’re going to want to add to your diet will be from things like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, fatty fish like salmon, these will have more than 5g of fat but it is good fat, so it’s okay! You want less than 5g of fat for basically anything else, especially anything coming out of a box or bag.
The label will separate the fats into total, saturated, and trans fats and has taken out calories from fat because research is showing the typeof fat is more important. We want to stay away from any and all trans fats. The FDA is close to making them illegal in food products- that’s how bad they are for your health.
Labels can actually sneak them into products and still list them as 0g if they contain less than .5g per serving.
Let’s think if we’re really eating just one serving…If you’re having 2-3 servings, that’s over 1g of trans fat. (You don’t want to go over 2g a day!) Your best bet to see if they’ve been snuck in is to look for the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredients list on the label. Hydrogenated = trans fat.
Next, move down the label and look at the dietary fiber. Fiber is going to keep you fuller longer, help control blood sugar, maintain regular bowel movements. It is recommended to get 25-30g/day and we are not getting enough of this! So on the label, you’re going to want something that has over 5 grams of fiber.
Under fiber will read the amount of sugar in a product. Let’s keep these below 5g.
Move down one and we’re going to highlight the new and improved best part of the new label: added sugars. Not only was this science driven, but was a big push from the consumers who are starting to really become aware of what exactly they’re eating. Right now, the label just shows the total sugar of the product. This can be misleading because we need to be able to decipher the natural sugars (from milk or fruit that don’t increase your risk for obesity or diabetes) and those that are added and not natural. Now, they’ll be clear as day for you. It’s our hope that people may shy away from some products that have added sugars in them, knowing the increased health risks.
The last member of the fab 5 is protein. We want this to be above 5g. Protein is also the most important macronutrient to keep us satisfied throughout the day (besides being essential for most of our body’s function).
The list of ingredients is where all the secrets lie. The first ingredient listed shows what makes up the largest amount of the product. Let’s make sure we can pronounce the words and since we’re on a 5 kick, less than 5 ingredients would be great, too.
- The new label will include two new nutrients: vitamin d and potassium as well as continue to contain iron and calcium. It has gotten rid of vitamin A and C from being required.
Good sources of vitamin D: fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon), fortified juices and cereals, cheese, egg yolks, liver.
Good sources of potassium: avocado, spinach, sweet potato, yogurt, banana, white beans.
Good sources of iron: red meat, pork, seafood, dark green leafy veggies, iron-fortified foods.
Good sources of calcium: kale, sardines, yogurt, broccolli, cheese, bok choy.
- The % daily values have also been updated according to new science that shows the amount the food is giving you of your daily recommended amount.
Clearly I’m excited about these changes! They are long overdue. I hope this helped you to navigate what to look for on a label so you can make the best choices in this crazy marketed world. If you ask me, I like the stuff that doesn’t come with a label ;), start there to make things easier!
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