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Navigating Food Packaging

Example: NFL Infographic May 2016

Obtained from FDA on September 25, 2017. “Unless otherwise noted, the contents of the FDA website (www.fda.gov)—both text and graphics—are not copyrighted. They are in the public domain and may be republished, reprinted and otherwise used freely by anyone without the need to obtain permission from FDA. Credit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the source is appreciated but not required.”

5 Simple Steps to Reading a Food Label

1.  Start Here
Look at the size of one serving and determine how many total servings are in the package.  Serving sizes are provided in units such as cups or pieces to make it easier to compare similar foods.  Pay attention to how many servings are in a food package since most foods advertise low calories based off servings.  For example, this nutrition label contains eight servings.  Therefore, the whole box contains:

230*8 = 1,840 Calories
8*8   = 64 g Total Fat
160*8 = 1,280 g Sodium
37 * 8  = 296 g Total Carbohydrate

If you consumed 2 servings (1.33 cups), you would be consuming 460 Calories.

2. Check Calories

Calories are a unit of energy.  If you consume more calories from food than you expend in energy during the day, you may gain weight.   If consume fewer calories than you expend in energy, you may lose weight.

In general, for one serving:

  • 40 Calories is low
  • 100 Calories is moderate
  • 400 Calories or more is high

3. Limit These Nutrients

Many Americans generally eat an adequate amount of or too much of these nutrients. Limit or eliminate the intake of these nutrients- fat (total, saturated, trans), sodium, and cholesterol, since they are related to increased risk for chronic disease.

General Daily Intake Guidelines:

  • Sodium
    • Ages 2 – 51: <2,300mg
    • Ages > 51, African Americans, Americans with hypertension or diabetes: <1,500mg
  • Fatty Acids and Cholesterol
    • Saturated fatty acids should be <10% of total caloric intake (1g of fat = 9 Calories)
    • Avoid trans fat as much as possible
    • < 300mg of cholesterol
  • Sugars
    • If the food item does not contain milk or fruit, all of the sugars are added sugars.  Minimize intake of added sugars (i.e. soda, desserts, etc.)

4. Increase Consumption of These Nutrients

Increasing your consumption of Potassium, vitamin D , calcium, and iron can help reduce risk of some diseases and conditions.  For example, osteoporosis is caused by calcium deficiency so if you increase your consumption of calcium, it will decrease your risk of osteoporosis.  Additionally, eating fiber promotes healthy bowel function and eating fruits and vegetables, which are low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

5. Quick Check of % Daily Value

The % Daily Value was created by the US Food and Drug Administration to help consumers (you) determine if you are eating too much or too little of certain nutrients.  The % Daily Value is appropriate for children over the age of 4 and healthy adults.  Typically, children under the age of 4 need to consume less than 100% and pregnant women need to consume more than 100% for each of the nutrients listed.

For the 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein, % Daily Value is based on a 2000 Calorie diet.  For example, if you burn 1800 Calories per day, you should consume 1800 Calories to maintain weight.  This also means that eating 1 serving of food product above would be more than 12% of your total carbohydrate intake for the day.

For the micronutrients: vitamins and minerals (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, etc.), % Daily Value should add up to 100% after adding up the nutrients found in all of the food you eat in one day.

For example, if you consume 2 servings of food (1.33cups), you will have consumed 20% of the Daily Value for Vitamin D which will leave 80% to be consumed from other sources.

References:
“Food.” How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, 2 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm
USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  2010. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf

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