With all the constant talk about food labels you may wondering how important they really are. Many people assume that since the nutrition facts label on your favorite breakfast cereal tells you it’s full of vitamins and minerals it must be healthy. But it is critical to understand that just because a food is high in vitamins does not mean that, overall, it’s healthy. While it’s great that your favorite cereal gives you a shot of vitamins and minerals, what if it’s also heavily loaded with sugar?
Eating healthy means choosing lots of different types of food throughout the day to get all the nutrients you need, such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fiber and even fat. Food labels are a helpful way to figure out what’s in the food you’re eating and serving your family. Where not long ago you would be stuck looking up the information that you need, today you see it all at a glance on your food labels making them very important in designing a healthy diet.
Labels give you information to help you decide what to choose as part of an overall healthy eating plan. For example, it may be OK to eat a sugary cereal if you make up for it by not eating much sugary stuff for the rest of the day. Checking the labels on foods will alert you when a food is high in something like sugar or fat so you can be prepared to make trade-offs through the rest of the day on what you eat.
Food labels provide you more than just nutrition facts. They tell you what’s in packaged food. Some food labels will also state which country the food came from, whether the food is organic and certain other health statements.
So you may be wondering just who decides what information goes on a food label? In the United States, those decisions are made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). These agencies require that all food labels show the same nutrition and health information. This then allows consumers to compare different foods and make the choices that are right for them based on the same information.
The FDA and USDA also regulate any health claims that companies make on their food labels. When a food says “light”, “lite” or “low fat” on the label, it must then meet strict government definitions in order to make that claim. In addition, foods that are labeled “USDA organic” are required to have at least 95% organic ingredients.
A big part of smart shopping is selecting healthy foods and food labels can help you do that. Food labels, also called Nutrition Facts labels, are printed on all packaged foods and are also posted near produce, meats, poultry and fish. These labels will let you compare different foods to see how they differ in fat, calories, protein and other ingredients. For example, you can compare the serving sizes of two bags of chips you like, see how much fat is in frozen pizza or find out how many carbohydrates are in a bag of cookies. You can also use the food labels to check to see if a food contains important vitamins and minerals.
Savvy shoppers are especially careful about the health claims on food packaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also decides whether manufacturers can call their foods “healthy” or “low fat.” However, it is left up to shoppers to put these claims in perspective for their own nutritional needs and eating habits. For example shoppers should keep in mind that “reduced fat” cookies might not actually be low in fat. They are simply just required to have less fat than the regular version of a particular cookie and that original version may be much higher in fat than other cookies to begin with.