Nutrition-conscious shoppers should be on the lookout for new food labels. A quick read could lead to healthier eating.
You could say dietician Suzanne McKeever is a professional label reader. She teaches people to make more nutritious choices by checking out what’s in the foods they eat.
Suzanne says, "We’re trying to become a, a healthier country, which is why reading food labels is becoming more prevalent now and more people are becoming interested in understanding what that means.”
New government rules are bulking up the nutrition facts label. Food companies now have to list the trans fatty acid or trans fat content on all food labels.
McKeever says, "Trans fat is a liquid oil that a manufacturer has added hydrogen to, and now it’s becoming a hydrogenated fat. It’s become more solid at room temperature."
Trans fat is man-made or processed fat. It preserves shelf life but also raises levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease.
McKeever says, "Overall our diet should only hold 30-percent of fat. So you would rather have most of those come from your polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and not your trans or saturated fats.”
Another label change could prevent an accidental allergic reaction to a food. You’ll now find potential allergenic ingredients identified. Food companies must list milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, nuts, wheat and soybeans.
“The key is to always look at your food labels,” the dietician says.
The revised food labels went into effect in January 2006.
Fast Facts:Our bodies require ample amounts of nutrients to function well and survive.
Eating too many of the wrong kinds of foods can lead to obesity and health problems.
Food labels help consumers determine what kinds of nutrients are available in a serving of a particular package of food.
New labeling changes will help shoppers determine specific amounts of trans fats as well as some ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible people.
Dietary Fat and Health
Fats are a group of chemical compounds used by the body for energy. Fats also help absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, and provide essential fatty acids needed for growth and development. Added fat also influences taste and provides texture for foods.
There are three main types of dietary fat. Saturated fat is considered a bad form of dietary fat because it’s associated with elevated levels of cholesterol. Major sources of saturated fat in American diets are meats, milk and milk products. Coconut and palm oils are also sources of saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 10 percent of daily calories come from saturated fat.
Monounsaturated fats are found in products like olive, canola and peanut oils. These fats tend to lower the body’s LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type of cholesterol).
Polyunsaturated fats mostly come from plant sources. They include seeds and nuts and products like safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn and cottonseed oils. These fats tend to lower overall cholesterol levels.
Another type of fat is a common name in the food industry. It’s called trans fat. Trans fat is largely a manufactured fat formed when hydrogen atoms are added to vegetable oils, causing the liquid to form a solid. The fats are commonly found in commercially prepared foods (like cookies, snack foods and baked goods) to improve flavor and increase the shelf life of a product. Trans fats are also in vegetable shortening and some brands of margarine. (Manufacturers may use the term, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, when describing trans fats in a product.) Small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in animal products, like butter, milk products, cheese and beef.
Trans fats are bad for the body in two ways: they tend to increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). The average American adult consumes about 5.8 grams of trans fat each day (roughly 2.6 percent of total daily calories).
Eating Healthy: The Role of the Nutrition Label
The nutrition label is an important source of information about a product. It not only lists the ingredients used in the preparation of the food, it provides information about the breakdown of important nutrients, like calories, serving size, and the amounts of sodium, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals.
In 1993, the FDA required manufacturers to list the amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol on nutrition labels. The information is helpful for those who want to limit their intake of saturated fats or reduce their cholesterol levels.
Now, all products packaged after January 1, 2006, are required to carry information about trans fat content as well. (Products packaged before that date did not need to include the information, so there may still be some products on the shelf without the information.) The trans fat content is listed under the line for saturated fat. There is currently no established daily value for trans fats (the number listed as a percent in the right column). Therefore, trans fats, for now, will only be listed in terms of the number of milligrams. If a product contains less than ½ a gram of trans fat/serving, the manufacturer is allowed to list the content as 0 grams of trans fat.
Comparing products can be tricky. Registered Dietitian, Suzanne McKeever, R.D., recommends consumers first be aware of the serving size listed on the nutrition label. Many packages look like they are made for one person, but actually contain more than one serving (some may contain 1½ to 2 or more servings). The nutrition facts are based on a single serving. So, for example, if a product lists one gram of trans fat/serving, but contains two servings, a consumer who eats a whole package will need to multiply the total amount of trans fat by two (to equal the two servings).
The types and amounts of fat in a category of foods (for example, snack crackers) can vary by brand. The FDA recommends comparing both nutrition labels and choosing the package with lower combined amounts of saturated fat and trans fat and lower amount of cholesterol.
The New List of Allergens
There is another change to the nutrition label. As of January 1, 2006, manufacturers are also required to mention if a product contains any of eight important food allergens (ingredients that can trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals who consume the product). Labels must now indicate if a product contains milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat or soybeans. The labeling requirement was instituted as part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
Web ResourcesAmerican Dietetic Association Web site
For general information of about nutrition or reading a nutrition label:
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Web site
Nutrition Information Gateway Web site