Ever stand in the grocery store comparing one packaged food item to another in order to choose the best one for your household?

Product claims and nutrition labels, you need to know about them!

New Nutrition Label

Ever stand in the grocery store comparing one packaged food item to another in order to choose the best one for your household? There are many marketing techniques that aim to promote a healthier product and sway the consumer’s decision. For example, companies carefully choose colors for the packaging as green is associated with health and yellow encourages optimism. More importantly, a product may have claims on the front of the package such as “Natural” or “Low Fat” that make it appear to be the healthier choice. Unfortunately, not all of these label claims are regulated by the FDA.

Here is what you need to know

The following claims must match FDA-specific definitions:

  • Low fat: 3 grams of fat or less per serving
  • Reduced fat: contains 25% less fat than the regular version of a product [i.e., reduced fat cheese]
  • Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
  • Reduced sodium: contains 25% less sodium than the original version of a product [i.e., reduced sodium soup].  Be wary that many products with “reduced” sodium on the label can still be high in sodium.
  • Light/lite: a product with one-third fewer calories or 50% of the fat content of the original food product.

 Other Label Claims:

  • Be wary of claims like “all-natural” or “guilt free,” as these are not regulated terms. 
  • “Natural” products are not necessarily organic. Organic products must meet USDA regulated standards in order to be labeled USDA organic.
  • If you are aiming to choose more natural products, start by looking at the ingredients list. If you cannot recognize any of the first 5 ingredients you might want to think again before purchasing. 

You also need to know that the Nutrition Label will change next year:

  • Implementation of the “new” version of the Nutrition Facts label will be required by July 2018.
  • Some of the main differences include:
    • Enlarged, bold type for Serving Size and Calories.  This is to draw our attention to make an informed decision. 
    • Total sugars and added sugars.  The current label does not require differentiation between natural and added sugars.  Natural sugars are present in fruits and dairy products, which are part of a balanced, healthy diet.  Added sugars should be limited as often as possible.  Look out for hidden added sugars in foods like yogurt, salad dressing, and condiments.
    • Different vitamins and minerals & their measurements.  Most Americans get enough vitamin A and C, thus these have been removed from the label.  New to the required label are Vitamin D and potassium. 

Overall

Determine what your goals are.  For those looking to lose weight, calories may be the most significant data on the label.  If you have high blood pressure, looking at sodium will be important.  Those with diabetes may want to pay attention to the total carbohydrate per serving. 

About the Authors

Emily Shaber is a registered dietitian, a graduate of Clemson University and an inpatient clinical dietitian at Sentara RMH Medical Center. Emily has four years of experience working with patients with cardiac and renal disease and specializes in critical care nutrition. Jessica Shickel is a registered dietitian, a graduate of James Madison University and an inpatient clinical dietitian at Sentara RMH Medical Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Jessica is passionate about educating patients on vital nutrition changes that can benefit all aspects of health and wellness.