The Twin Cities Green Guide: FOOD:
Using the Food Label
Nearly every packaged food must be labeled with information about its nutrient and ingredient content. The food label can become your source of information for choosing foods that fit your health and lifestyle needs.
The % Daily Value on a food label shows how much a nutrient contributes to a typical 2,000-calorie daily diet. The % Daily Value tells you if the amount of a nutrient in the food is high or low. In one serving look for a low % Daily Value in unhealthy nutrients and a high % Daily Value in healthful nutrients. All labels must contain information about the food's content of calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. If a food is fortified with other nutrients, these must appear on the label as well.
Ingredients are listed by weight from most to least. On our cookie label, for example, enriched flour is the first ingredient, and therefore more flour went into making these cookies than any other ingredient. The amount of sugar (the second ingredient on the list) will be less than the amount of flour, but more than partially hydrogenated soybean oil (the third ingredient). The ingredient list gives you an idea of the proportion of ingredients in the food, and helps you identify any you may want to avoid due to allergies or health or religious restrictions.
There are guidelines (albeit voluntary) for the food industry to include any common allergen in the ingredient list, even those found in trace amounts. These guidelines apply to eight foods responsible for most allergic reactions: crustaceans, milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, soy, tree nuts and wheat. Food additives are included in the main ingredient list and are used by food manufacturers to improve or maintain product consistency, nutritional value or shelf life, or to provide leavening, flavor or color. Food additives are included in the ingredient list and are regulated and monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure their safety. The following table lists some common food additives:
|Food Additive||Commonly Found In|
|Antimicrobials (prevent spoilage): calcium propionate, sodium nitrite, sulfites||Baked goods, bread, frankfurters, ham, lunch meats|
|Antioxidants (prevent rancidity and browning): ascorbic acid (vitamin C), BHA, BHT, citric acid, EDTA, lecithin, sulfites, tocopherol (vitamin E)||Baking mixes, candy, cereal, dehydrated potatoes, dried fruit, snack chips|
|Bulking Agent: polydextrose||Cake, candy, frozen desserts|
|Colorants (natural): annatto, beta carotene, caramel, chlorophyll Colorants (synthetic): FD&C blue, green, red, yellow||Baked goods, candy, cheese, fruit gelatin, ice cream, margarine, soft drinks|
|Emulsifiers (keep oil and water blended): lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, polysorbate||Baked goods, cake mixes, margarine, mayonnaise, peanut butter, mayonnaise|
|Flavoring or Flavor Enhancers: extracts, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, monosodium glutamate||Frankfurters, sauces, soups, stews|
|Humectants (retain moisture): glycerine, sorbitol||Baked goods, candy, coconut, marshmallows|
|Leavening Agents (help food rise): sodium bicarbonate, yeast||Baked goods|
|Sweeteners (non-nutritive): acesulfame-K, aspartame, saccharin, sucrolose Sweeteners (nutritive): corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, mannitol||Baked goods, candy, canned fruit, cocoa mixes, fruit gelatin, frozen desserts, pie fillings, pudding, soft drinks, soup mixes, yogurt|
|Thickeners, stabilizers, texturizers (improve texture): carrageenan, casein, gelatin, gum, maltodextrin, modified starch, pectin, whey||Cheese foods, chocolate products, fruit gelatin, ice cream, jam, jelly, pudding, salad dressing|
If you have adverse reactions to certain foods, you need to read carefully the food label for ingredients that may cause the reaction. For any of these food intolerances, it is important to know ingredients that are derived from these foods:
Sulfites and the coloring agent FD&C Yellow No.5 must be reported on the food label. If you are sensitive to sulfites, avoid any ingredients with sulfite, sulfur or bisulfite in the name.
Nutrient content claim
A food label may include a nutrient content claim or a health claim. The nutrient content claim provides a description for the food, such as "low fat" or "reduced sodium." Nutrient content claims have very specific definitions and are based on one serving of the food:
|What It Means|
|Free||Contains "no amount of" or a "trivial amount." Other terms: "without," "no" and "zero."|
|Low||Contains amounts that don't exceed the following per serving: "low-fat"=3g or less; "low saturated-fat"=1 g or less; "low-sodium"=140 mg or less; "very low sodium"=35mg or less; "low-cholesterol"=20 mg or less; "low-calorie"=40 calories or less. Other terms: "little," "few," "low source of" and "contains a small amount of."|
|High||Contains 20% or more of the Daily Value of the nutrient.|
|Good Source||Contains 10 to 19% of the Daily Value of the nutrient.|
|Reduced||Contains at least 25% less of a nutrient than the regular product. Other terms: "less" and "fewer."|
|Light||Contains 1/3 fewer calories or half the fat of the regular product. Or a low-calorie, low-fat food that contains half the sodium of the regular product.|
|More||Contains at least 10% of the Daily Value more than the regular food. Other terms: "fortified," "enriched" and "added."|
|Healthy||A food low in fat and saturated fat with limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. It must contain at least 10% of the Daily Value of one or more of the following: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber.|
|Lean and Extra Lean||For meat, poultry, seafood or game. Lean contains less than 10g fat, 4.5g saturated fat, and 95mg cholesterol per serving and per 100g. Extra Lean contains less than 5g fat, 2g saturated fat and 95mg cholesterol per serving and per 100g.|
To date, the FDA has approved the health claims for the following diet and disease relationships, based on scientific evidence:
Other label language
Some food labels carry additional descriptions to tell you even more about what's inside the package.