Food Labels

To design and maintain a healthful diet, it’s important to read and understand food labels. Public interest and concern about how food affects health became so strong that in 1990 the U.S. Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. This act specifies which foods require a food label and describes the companies and food products that are exempt from publishing complete nutrition information on food labels. Detailed food labels are not required for meat or poultry because these foods are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture, not the FDA. Also, most spices don’t require to follow the FDA labeling guidelines because they contain insignificant amounts of all the nutrients that must be listed.

Five components of information must be included on food labels. One of them is the statement of identity. The common name of the product or an appropriate identification must be displayed on the label. The quantity of the food product in the entire package must be accurately described. Also, the ingredients must be listed by their common names in descending order by weight. The first product listed in the ingredient list is the predominant ingredient in that food. For instance, if your tracking your sugar intake and sugar happens to be listed as a number one ingredient on a product, it would be best to stay away from that product. Also, the name and address of the food manufacturer, packer or distributor should be somewhere on the product to contact if somethings wrong with the product. Lastly, the nutrition information should be labeled because it contains the primary tool to assist you in choosing more healthful foods.

Serving size, total calories, calories from fat per serving, list of nutrients and percent daily values are all important keys to following a healthy diet. Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet because that is what the average person consumes. However, if your body requires more or less calories, the percentages would be different, but you can still use this as your guide. Anything less than 5% DV of a nutrient is considered low and foods with more than 20% DV are considered high.

Food labels also display a lot of claims. For instance, a claim may be “Low in sodium” or “This food is part of a heart-healthy diet.” The FDA regulates 2 types of claims that food companies put on food labels: nutrient claims and health claims. Food companies are prohibited from using a nutrient or health claim that’s not approved by the FDA. If a food says that it is low in sodium this simply just means from the daily value listed the particular food contains 140 mg or less per serving. Food labels are also allowed to display certain claims related to health and disease. Labels may also contain structure-function claims that can be made up without the approval of the FDA. Some examples of these would simply be “Builds stronger bones”, “Improves memory,” or “Boosts your immune system.” It is important here to realize that these claims can be made without any proof and there are no guarantees that they are true about the particular food. This is definitely something I am against and don’t think that it should be allowed. It guides people in the wrong direction sometimes, and what it comes down to is that the seller wants to sell their product so they will do anything to catch the eyes of the consumers even if it may be a lie.

One example of an approved health claim on specific nutrient is seen for Calcium. We know that Osteoporosis is a health concern for those who don’t consume enough calcium throughout the years. An example of an approved claim statement would be “Regular exercise and a healthy diet with enough calcium help teens and young adult white and Asian women maintain good bone health and may reduce their high risk of osteoporosis later in life.” By having a proving statement such as this can lead the companies to have certain claims on their products. Another example is that eating a diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol can lead to coronary heart disease. A claim for this may be “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain some types of dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of heart disease, a disease associated with many factors.” Lastly, another example pertaining to hypertension and stroke would be not consuming enough potassium and eating too much sodium. An example of an approved claim would be “Diets containing foods that are a good source of potassium and that are low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.”

Notice how all the claims have to say “may reduce the risk” because there are no guarantees because everyone is different. However, it’s been proven by eating certain types of diets that these claims are efficient enough to have labels for on certain products. So, overall it is especially important to realize that not all claims on labels are 100% true, and you will learn this by looking at the nutrition and ingredient content if the claim sounds too good to be true.

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.


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