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Food Label Empowers Health-Conscious Consumers

At the front, back and side panels of food packages bearing the food labels, nutrition information is generally in three main areas:

  • Nutrition facts. This panel contains product-specific information about serving size, calories, and nutrients; and Percent DailyValue (% DV) based on a 2000 calorie diet. For large packages, a footnote with DailyValues (DVs) that provides a summary of recommended dietary intakes of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate and dietary fiber are also included.
  • Nutrition-Related Claims. Usually found in front of a food package which identify the nutrition-related attribute of certain foods. Regulated claims that can be used on food and dietary supplement labels fall into the following categories (1) health claims, (2) nutrient content claims, (3) structure-function claims and (4) dietary guidance statements. For health and nutrient content claims, food must meet criteria for approval by the Food and Drugs Administration. A health claim may be authorized by using a significant scientific agreement standards, an authoritative statement by a scientific body or the National Academy of Sciences, or there is an emerging evidence for a relationship between food, food component, or a dietary supplement and the reduced risk of a disease or health-related condition or “qualified” claim.
  • ingredient Statement. A list of ingredients found in the food product which are listed in descending order by weight, from the most to the least.

Many diabetic patients read food labels to help them select food with less fat (saturated fat), cholesterol and sodium and more complex carbohydrates and fiber. Food labels appear on virtually all processed foods. Even restaurants supply nutrition information for menu items with claims as “low fat” or “low sodium.” Be wary about serving portions in restaurants as these may be two to three times the standard serving sizes. A low-fat pasta, for example, may have only three grams fat per 1/2 cup, but if you are served two cups for a total of 12 grams of fat, then this is not considered low in fat.

Serving Sizes
Because labels present nutrient information per serving, they must identify the size of a serving. A serving reflects the amount of food people customarily consume. Serving sizes are expressed in both common
household measures, such as cups, milliliters, tablespoons, and ounces. Bear in mind, serving sizes may vary according to type and brand of food. For example, a serving of rice is one cup, whereas in the Pyramid it is 1/2 cup. Since we can’t change manufacturing serving sizes, it is up to us to know how many servings we are getting in order to keep track of our fat or calorie intake.

The Daily Values
Nutrient contents when compared with each individual’s recommended intakes will be meaningful to consumers. However, manufacturers can’t know who will be reading the label. It could be a pregnant mother, an older person or a schoolchild.Thus, a set of standard values to represent the needs of a “typical consumer,” known as Daily Values was developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for use on food labels.

Daily Values reflect dietary recommendations for nutrients and dietary components that have important relationship with health. The “% DailyValue” column provides a general idea of a serving of the food’s nutrient contribution to a 2000 calorie diet.You may need more or less calories depending on your size and activity level. A 2000-calorie diet is considered about right for moderately active women, teenage girls and sedentary men.

Use Daily Values as a guide to see whether a food has “low” or “high” contribution of a nutrient. It helps the consumer determine the percentage of the allotted nutrient each serving of the food provides. Go for foods with low “% Daily Value” for fat and sodium if hypertensive or with hyperlipidemia but select those with high “% Daily Value” for fiber, if diabetic, or obese.

Nutrient Claims
Nutrient claims are statements that characterize the quantity of a nutrient in a food. In addition, it indicates the conditions under which each term can be used.

Health Claims
Health claims are statements that characterize the relationship between a nutrient or other substance in a food and a disease or health-related condition. The FDA has approved several health claims based on specified criteria such as the following:

  • On Reduced Risk of Cancer
    – Low dietary fat
    – Fiber-containing, grain products, fruits and vegetables
    – Whole grains
  • On Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease
    – Low dietary saturated fat and cholesterol
    – Fruit, vegetable and grain products that contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber
    – Soluble fiber from whole oats and from psyllium seed husk
    – Soy Protein
    -Whole grains
    – Plant sterol and plant stanol
  • On Reduced Risk of Dental Caries
    – Sugar alcohols
  • On Reduced Risk of Hypertension
    – Low sodium
    – High potassium
  • On Reduced Risk of Neural Tube Defects
    – Folate
  • On Reduced Risk of Osteoporosis
    – Calcium

With exception of sugar alcohols and dental caries, all other health claims must also be a naturally good source (containing between 10% and 19% of the DailyValue) of at least the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber and if a standard serving contains not more than 20 percent of the Daily Value for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium. Consumers can use nutrition labels to improve food choices for improved health. Remember, food label is a tool and is not the substitute for nutrition education.To better interpret food labels and improve food choices, health care professionals, government, media and the food industry need to provide the context the consumers need so that they can translate this information into doable ~ choices that will help in achieving an overall healthful diet.

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