Food Labels

©1999 AHN/FIT Internet, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Reading Food Labels

In May of 1994, new food labeling regulations requiring most packaged foods to provide nutrition information went into effect. Prior to these new regulations, food labeling was voluntary and could only be found on about 60 percent of packaged foods. The food labeling regulations were designed to ensure that label information is accurate and reliable and to empower consumers by giving them information to help them choose healthier foods to meet their nutritional needs. The new food label includes a listing of some of the nutrients important to health.

Label Components

The new nutrition label, called "Nutrition Facts," provides information on a variety of nutrients. It also lists the serving size, Calories per serving, the percentage of U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for people over the age of four for all the nutrients listed, and the ingredients. Ingredients of a food are listed in order from greatest amount to least.  Moreover, the new label has bigger type, and the FDA requires the information appear on a white or other neutral contrasting background.

The information on the label includes:

  • Serving Sizes: These sizes are based on amounts people actually eat and are consistent across product lines. They are not necessarily the same as the serving sizes recommended on the Food Guide Pyramid.
  • Servings per container:  Serving sizes are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., the number of grams. Serving sizes are based on the amount of food people typically eat, which makes them realistic and easy to compare to similar foods.  Pay attention to the serving size, including how many servings there are in the food package, and compare it to how much YOU actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label.
  • Calories: Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Calories are listed both as total Calories per serving and amount of Calories from fat per serving. This information is helpful for people who count Calories and monitor their daily intake of Calories from fat, which nutritionists recommend not exceed more than 30 percent of total Calories per day.
  • Cholesterol: This figure indicates the amount of cholesterol contained in the food, helpful for people on a cholesterol-lowering diet and for those suffering from arteriosclerosis.
  • Sodium: This figure indicates the amount of sodium present in the food, useful for people who need to watch their sodium intake, especially those with high blood pressure.
  • Percent Daily Value: (%DV) helps consumers determine if a food is high or low in a nutrient. These percentages are based on an average dietary intake.
  • Daily Values: These figures show the recommended minimum amount of some nutrients, such as fiber and carbohydrates, and the maximum recommended amount of other nutrients, such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Two "Daily Value columns," one for a 2,000-Calorie diet and one for a 2,500-Calorie diet, are shown, because the nutrient needs increase as your Calorie consumption increases. If you consume 2,500 calories per day, the Footnote shows you how your daily values would change for some nutrients but not for others. The Daily Values for Cholesterol (300mg) and Sodium (2,400mg sodium) remain the same no matter how many calories you eat. But recommended levels of intake for other nutrients do depend on how many calories you consume.  Remember: %DVs listed on the top half of the food label are based on recommendations for a 2,000 calorie diet, not a 2,500 calorie diet.
  • Calories per gram of fat, carbohydrate and protein: These figures indicate how many Calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate and protein. They can be used to calculate how many Calories of each nutrient are contained in the food (by multiplying the grams of the nutrient times the amount of Calories per gram of nutrient). For example: 45g of carbohydrate times 4 Calories per gram equals 180 Calories from carbohydrate.
  • Ingredients: The ingredients that make up the product are indicated in descending order by weight; therefore, the first listed ingredient comprises more of the food than any other ingredient.

The Daily Values are based on expert dietary advice about how much, or how little, of some key nutrients you should eat each day, depending on whether you eat 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day.

Dietary Trade-Offs

You can use the %DV to help you make dietary trade-offs with other foods throughout the day. You don't have to give up a favorite food to eat a healthy diet. When a food you like is high in fat, balance it with foods that are low in fat at other times of the day. Also, pay attention to how much you eat so that the total amount of fat for the day stays below 100%DV.

Health Claims on Labels

Frequently, consumers find claims about a food's nutritional benefits on the packaging. Health claims describe nutritional benefits that a specific food product offers. You can quickly distinguish one claim from another, such as "reduced fat" vs. "light" or "nonfat." Just compare the %DV for Total Fat in each food product to see which one is higher or lower in that nutrient--there is no need to memorize definitions. This works when comparing all nutrient content claims, e.g., less, light, low, free, more, high, etc.

The government has strict definitions for many health claim terms, including the following.

  • Free: A product contains none or only a negligible amount of one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar or Calories.
  • Reduced: A product has 25 percent less of a nutrient or Calories than the regular product.
  • Less: A food contains 25 percent less of a nutrient or Calories than the reference food, whether or not the food has been modified.
  • Light: A nutritionally modified product contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the referenced product. Term can also refer to the sodium content of a low-fat or low-Calorie food, if it has been reduced by up to 50 percent.
  • Low: Used on foods that can be eaten frequently without exceeding the dietary guidelines for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium or Calories.
  • High: Describes a food containing 20 percent or more of the daily value per serving of a specific nutrient.
  • More: Food contains 10 percent more of a particular nutrient as compared to the referenced food.
  • Healthy: At least 10 percent more of the daily value for one or more of vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber per serving.

Making Healthy Food Choices

Why We Choose the Foods We Do

Food choices are influenced by many factors, age, gender, friends, family, cultural background and where we live. Although the main purpose of food is to nourish the body, food means far more than that to many people. It can represent much of who and what we are.

People bond and foster relationships around the dinner table and at celebrations with special meals and foods, such as a birthday cake or going out to a special restaurant. Some people express their creative side by serving dinner guests, as well as expressing their awareness and appreciation for others. Some people also use food to help them cope with stress by overeating or depriving themselves. Food may also be used as a reward for accomplishing a specific goal. Consequently, what people eat can reveal much about who they are socially, politically and religiously.

Factors influencing food preferences include:

  • Taste, texture and appearance.
  • Economics - The cost of food affects what we eat.
  • Our early experiences with food - Food preferences begin early in life and change as we are exposed to new people and places. As children, our choices were in the hands of our parents. However, as we get older, our experiences with new people and places increase, thereby broadening our food preferences and choices.
  • Habits - Most of eat from a particular core group of foods. About one hundred items account for 75 percent of the foods most people eat. Having a narrow range of food choices provides us with security. For example, going to a particular fast-food restaurant provides common expectations and experiences. Many people also have the cooking habits of our mothers or grandmothers.
  • Culture - Religious rules can affect food choices. For example, Hindus do not eat beef, and some Jewish people do not eat pork. The region that people are from can also affect eating behaviors. Swedish people would not eat an ear of corn, because it is considered food for hogs. In the United States, we don't normally eat insects, but many other cultures regard them as preferred foods. Culture can also dictate the times to eat and what to eat at certain meals.
  • Advertising - To capture the interest of the consumer, food producers spend billions of dollars each year on advertising and packaging, both for food bought in grocery stores and restaurants. The power of persuasion is very strong, and so food producers and restaurants try to make their products as appealing as possible to consumers, even if that means making false claims.
  • Social factors - Social changes have a big effect on the food industry. Our fast-paced society demands drive-through restaurants. Gas stations now have convenience stores and restaurants attached to them, so people can do one-stop shopping. Malls also cater to their customers with food courts offering a wide variety of foods.

Advertising Techniques

To capture the interest of the consumer, food producers spend billions of dollars each year on advertising and packaging, both for food bought in grocery stores and for restaurants. The power of persuasion is very strong, and so food producers and restaurants try to make their products as appealing as possible to consumers.

Popular advertising techniques include:

  • Bandwagon: gives the impression that everyone is using this product or doing this activity. Advertisers hope that people will buy their products to avoid feeling left out.
  • Brand Loyalty: portrays a group of people who are loyal users of a product and would not consider switching to another brand; tells consumers that this brand is the best.
  • Testimonial (Celebrity Appeal): a famous person is used to endorse a product.
  • Feel Good Appeal: you will feel better if you eat our product.
  • Over Generalizing: exaggerates the benefits of the product.
  • Reward Appeal: you receive a gift or a prize if you buy the product.

 

Food Guide Pyramid

A Guide to Daily Food Choices

 

 

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day based on the Dietary Guidelines. It's not a rigid prescription but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that's right for you.  The Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and at the same time, the right amount of calories to maintain healthy weight.  This guide is a good starting point for your food choices.  Choosing foods according to the Pyramid can help you get all your nutrients in the amounts you need and help you keep the amount of saturated and cholesterol you eat low and keep your total fat intake at a moderate level. 

Your food choices should be built on a base of plant foods – grains, fruits and vegetables.  Start with foods from these three groups as the foundation of your diet.  Choose a variety of different foods – especially in the Grains, Fruit, and Vegetable groups.  Include dark-green leafy vegetables and dry beans or peas several times a week – they are rich in many vitamins and minerals.  Also eat several servings of whole grains each day – whole grains contain fiber and other protective substances.

Each food group contains many choices.  For example, you may start some days with cereal – from the Grains group.  Other days you may choose toast.  Or, you may prefer tortillas or rice.  All of these are good ways to get some grain foods into your morning.  You may have your own personal choice:  Popcorn for breakfast, anyone? In the Milk group, you may prefer lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk products.  Also, soy-based beverages with added calcium are an option if you want a non-dairy source of calcium.  There are many choices in each food group. However, if you avoid all foods from any of the food groups, ask a health care professional to help you make choices that have all the nutrients you need. How much do you need from each group? The Pyramid gives a range of servings for each group.  The number of servings you need depends on your calorie and nutrient needs. These are based on your age, sex, and level of activity.

What Counts as One Serving?

The amount of food that counts as one serving is listed below. If you eat a larger portion, count it as more than 1 serving. For example, a dinner portion of spaghetti would count as 2 or 3 servings of pasta.

The Grains Group
1 slice of bread
1 ounce of cereal (½ to 1 cup, depending on the cereal)
1 ounce of pretzels
½ cup of rice
½ cup of spaghetti
½ hamburger bun
½ bagel
1 tortilla

The Vegetable Group
1 cup of raw leafy vegetables such as lettuce or spinach
½ cup of other vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, corn, tomatoes, and mashed potatoes
¾ cup of vegetable juice

The Fruit Group
1 medium apple, banana or orange
½ cup of grapes
½ cup of cooked, chopped or canned fruit such as watermelon or fruit cocktail
¾ cup of fruit juice, such as orange juice or apple juice

The Dairy Group
1 cup of milk or yogurt
½ cup of ice cream
½ cup of pudding
1½ cup natural cheese (Swiss, Cheddar)
2 ounces of processed cheese (American - 1 to 2 slices)

The Meat, Poultry, Fish and Dry Beans Group
1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish
1 egg
1 hot dog
2 tablespoons of peanut butter
½ cup of cooked, dry beans
½ cup tofu or 2½-ounce soyburger

Fats, Oils and Sweets
jelly, candy, soda, mayonnaise, butter, margarine, salad dressing-Use sparingly.

 

Where do pizza and other mixed dishes fit in the Pyramid?

Many popular foods don’t fit neatly into one Pyramid group. For example, cheese pizza counts in several Pyramid groups: Grains (the crust), Milk (the cheese), and Vegetable (the tomato sauce).You can choose the mixed dishes you like to eat—from fast food places, ethnic restaurants, or “Mom’s” kitchen—and still eat the Pyramid way. In a bean burrito the tortilla counts in the Grains group, the beans in the Meat and Beans group, and the cheese in the Milk group.  The chicken in a pot pie or fried rice counts in the Meat and Beans group, and the spinach in a quiche or a chef’s salad counts in the Vegetable group. Check to see how some of the foods you eat fit into the Pyramid. Some mixed dishes also contain a lot of fat.

Does eating the Pyramid way mean no more fast food? No…but you do need to pay attention to your choices. Many menu items may be high in calories and fat, especially saturated fat. Fast foods menus also tend to have limited variety, and especially limited choices of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Make sure you get enough of these at other meals or as snacks. If you eat fast foods often, try these tips:

  • Extras such as sauces, cheese, or bacon on burgers can add a lot of calories and fat.  Try your burger with lettuce, tomato, and onion instead.
  • Order small or medium sizes—giant-size portions aren’t a bargain if they’re more calories and fat than you need.
  • Try a green salad instead of fries.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, fruit juice, or water as a beverage instead of a soft drink.

Food Item and sample portion

Grains Group

Vegetable Group

Fruit Group

Milk Group

Meat Group

Fat %DV

Cheese Pizza (2 medium slices)

2 ½

½

0

½

0

19

Lasagna (1 piece 3 ½” by 4”)

1 ½

½

0

½

1

23

Macaroni and cheese

(1 cup, made from packaged mix)

2

0

0

½

0

30

Tuna noodle casserole (1 cup)

1 ½

0

0

½

2

29

Spinach quiche (1 piece)

1

½

0

½

½

40

Chicken pot pie (8 oz. pie)

2 ½

½

0

0

1 ½

43

Beef taco (2)

2 ½

½

0

¼

2

40

Bean and cheese burrito (1)

2 ½

¼

0

1

1

44

Egg roll (1)

½

¼

0

0

½

10

Chicken fried rice (1 cup)

1 ½

½

0

0

1

19

Rice and beans (1 cup)

1 ½

0

0

0

1 ½

17

Stuffed peppers with

rice and meat (½ pepper)

½

1

0

0

1

19

Beef stir-fry (1 cup)

0

1 ½

0

0

1 ½

16

Clam chowder–New England (1 cup)

½

½

0

½

3 ½

8

Cream of tomato soup (1 cup)

½

1

0

½

0

7

Double cheeseburger (with mayo)

3 ½

½

0

½

2 ½

54

Italian sub (6” sub)

2

½

0

½

2 ½

58

Peanut butter & jelly sandwich (1)

2

0

0

0

1

22

Tuna salad sandwich (1)

2

½

0

0

2

11

Chef salad (3 cups–no dressing)

0

3

0

0

3

5

Pasta salad with vegetables (1 cup)

1 ½

1

0

0

0

24

Apple pie (1 slice)

2

0

½

0

0

25

Pumpkin pie (1 slice)

1 ½

¼

0

¼

¼

22

 

Eating Healthy

 

 

Eat a variety of foods

Balance food intake with physical activity

Choose diet with plenty of grains, vegetables and fruits.

Choose a diet low in fat and cholesterol.

Choose a diet moderate in sugars.

Choose a diet moderate in salt.

.



 




Food Label

 

©1999 AHN/FIT Internet, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Source: Food & Drug Administration

 

 

 

 

Food Mod 2 - Worksheet

Use the food label shown on page 7 to answer questions 1-6.

1.     How many servings are in this container?  _________________

2.     This product contains how many grams of fat per serving?  __________________

3.     This product contains how many calories per serving?  _________________

4.     This product contains what percentage of the daily value of Vitamin A?  _________________

5.     This product contains what percentage of the daily value of Vitamin C?  _________________

6.     How many calories would you consume if you ate 1 cup of this product?  _________________

7.     T  |  F   The government regulates health claims about a food’s nutritional benefits such as ‘Fat Free’, ‘Low Sodium’, or ‘High Fiber’ on product labels.

8.     T  |  F   Food choices are influenced by factors such as age, family and culture.

9.     An advertiser using the ‘Bandwagon’ technique hopes that you will buy their product to avoid being ___________________.

10.  A company that hires a famous athlete to endorse their products is using the  ________________ advertising technique.

11.  Name a product that uses the ‘Brand Loyalty’ technique of advertising.   _____________________

12.  Name a product that uses ‘Feel Good Appeal’ for advertising.   _____________________________

13.  Name a product that uses ‘Over Generalization’ for advertising.  ____________________________

14.  Why is the ‘bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group’ on the bottom of the pyramid while the ‘fats, oils, and sweets’ group is on the top?  ______________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________

Use the chart on page 5 to answer questions 15-17.

15.  List 2 items that are low in fat (less than 15% DV)  ________________________________________

16.  List 3 items that are high in fat (more than 40% DV)  ______________________________________

17.  How many servings of vegetables would be in 2 cups of Beef stir-fry?  _____________

18.  T  |  F   Eating healthy requires that you avoid fatty foods completely.

19.  T  |  F   You should attempt to balance your food intake with your physical activity level.