Nutrition labeling has been around for about 20 years so that now we are as familiar with it as we are with the bar codes on packages of processed and prepackaged foods. But do we understand it?
What's in a Label?
All products with more than one ingredient are required to have labels that list everything included in the product as well as the total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron.
Additionally, the label shows how this particular food's nutritional content compares to the recommended daily allowances (RDA) determined by the National Academy of Science.
This is all well and good but for many of us, these numbers just make our eyes glaze over and our head swim.
Look for the Important Stuff
You know what you are most interested in when you buy a product -- beyond its flavor or usefulness in a recipe. Keep these in mind when you shop.
You may be watching your fat intake, your cholesterol, or sugars. You or someone in your family may be on a low-sodium or low-carb diet. A quick glance will tell you what you are buying.
Determine the nutritional content of one serving to decide if the amounts fit your requirements for good health. The serving size may not correspond with the portion size you or your family would eat, so take that into account.
For example, if the label on a loaf of bread says that one slice is a serving and you plan to use the bread for sandwiches, do the math. Ditto for a can of soup or tuna fish. Your growing teenagers may well eat a whole can of soup.
Know How the Ingredients are Listed
The ingredeints are listed in the order of their weight, with the largest quantities listed first. If you are concerned with empty calories supplied by sugars, look to see where grape juice or another fructose or sucrose fall in the list.
These listings are useful for anyone concerned with allergins. If one of your kids is sensitive to certain foods, even a trace amount could cause a problem. The label listings will set your mind at ease.
Once you get in the habit of reading the labels on the foods you consider buying, you will be in far more control over what your family eats -- and how well it eats. That's worth a little time to read the label!