food labels Let’s take a look at how to read food labels to determine if a food is a good choice.

Food labels: Changes to look out for

In May of 2016 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced changes to the nutrition facts label found on all packaged foods. There is only one change when it comes to fats. Labels no longer note how many calories (of the total) come from fat. This change reflects the understanding that the type of fat consumed is more important than the total amount.

Nutrition facts label

The FDA requires that nutrition facts labels list the grams of total, saturated and trans-fats a food contains per serving.

Some companies list the amounts of mono- and polyunsaturated fats as well, but this is by choice. In addition to listing the amount in grams, the label also lists a percent daily value (%DV) for total and saturated fat, which is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Generally, if the %DV for a serving of a food is 5% or less it is low in fat or saturated fat and if it is 20% or more it is high in fat or saturated fat. A quick way to gauge if a food is high in saturated fat is to just look at the %DV.

Ingredient list

For trans-fats, it is important to look not only at the nutrition facts label, but also the ingredient list.

Manufacturers can list “0 grams” for trans-fat on the label if there are 0.49 grams or less per serving. Because we recommend you avoid trans-fats completely, even a small amount is detrimental to health. Additionally, people consume some foods with small amounts of trans-fats, like processed peanut butters, daily. For these reasons we advise that you always read the ingredient list to determine if a foods contains trans-fats. As ingredients, trans-fats are listed as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.

Health claims on packaging

Many people feel that health claims on the front of packaged foods can be the most confusing. It’s important to note that these claims are used to market a product to the consumer. This is unlike the nutrition facts label and ingredient list which are meant to inform the consumer. Health claims on packaging can be quite misleading.

Take for example the claim that a food “provides X grams of omega-3 fatty acids” is an approved health claim, but it really doesn’t help the consumer determine if the food is a good or healthy choice. Similarly, foods that are marketed as “low fat” or “reduced fat” can be very unhealthy. Almost all gummy candies contain no fat and they are by no means a healthy choice. The best advice is to ignore the claims on the front of a packaged foods and just look at the nutrition information and ingredients instead.

Get healthy recipes from the UVM Medical Center. View our Recipe Collection by clicking here. 

Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietitian at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

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