Your First Step Toward Healthier Eating: Read the Food Label

New, improved nutrition labels are on the way

Your First Step Toward Healthier Eating: Read the Food Label

Contributor: Sara Lappé MD, MS, FAAP

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Nutrition labels are overwhelming – they use tiny print, are sometimes hidden on a package and are not always easy to interpret.

Many parents and their kids have a hard time understanding what to look for on the nutrition label and how to use it to improve their health. Many people don’t even bother to turn the package and take a look at the label.

Now, there will be new and improved nutrition labels that are set to be more user-friendly. The new and improved labels, which will be mandatory on food by July 2018, will make it easier for you to eat more nutritiously and spot added sugar.

Better information

The current nutrition label does not guide you on how much sugar is too much sugar. The list only shows how many grams of sugar are in a serving with no regard to the amount of sugar the carbohydrates contain. Carbohydrates include starch, sugars, sugar alcohols and fiber. The new guidelines decrease the daily recommended carbohydrate value from 300 grams to 275 grams.

The new nutrition facts label splits added sugars from total sugars. The total sugars include naturally occurring sugars in a food, while the added sugars are ones that are added to a food.

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For example: A cup of strawberry yogurt will have total sugars that include the naturally occurring sugar in the strawberry and yogurt, but the added sugars will be whichever sweetener was added to the product by the manufacturer.

Added sugars

Added sugars are added during food processing and include sugars, syrup, caloric sweeteners and concentrated fruit juices. Added sugars can be listed as “0 g” if the amount is less than 0.5 grams.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans published in 2015 recommends that adults and children older than age 4 should not have more than 50 grams of added sugars per day. The recommended maximum of sugar intake for children under age 4 is only 25 grams. That is half of the daily maximum recommendation for everyone else.

A helpful hint to remember: Double the percent daily value when considering the sugar amount for your kids.

For example: A can of soda has around 35 grams of added sugar in one 12-ounce can. This turns out to be a whopping 70 percent of the daily recommended maximum added sugar consumption. For your child who is younger than age 4, one can of soda is 140 percent of the daily recommended maximum of added sugar intake. Yikes!

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One thing to remember is that even if a food doesn’t have any added sugars, going overboard on the total sugars can still overwhelm your body and lead to a sugar crash. Trying to find foods that are relatively lower in sugar and higher in fiber can help your body process the sugars more easily and avoid those crashes.

Read the ingredient list

The updated nutrition labels can help you keep your sugar intake down when eating. The best way to eat is still to avoid simple carbohydrates and overly processed foods, as they are more likely to have extra salt, sugar and fats.

You don’t have to wait until the new labels come out to begin eating healthier – you can start now by eating more whole foods. Try eating more produce in its raw form, and purchase foods that have ingredients you can recognize and that your little one can pronounce.

You’re less likely to be fooled by marketing tricks if you take the time to flip over the box and look at the nutrition label and ingredient list. A long list of ingredients usually means it’s not that nutritious for you or your children.

This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic. 

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