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Today’s Food Labels

At the store, food labels are your best sources of consumer information. Food labels tell the basics. They identify the food, the amount inside the package, an ingredient list, nutrition labeling, and the manufacturer. If you need to eat fewer calories, less saturated or trans fat, more calcium, or more fiber, Nutrition Facts labels can help you. Nutrition information on labels helps you choose foods to meet recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid.

What’s on the Label?

Wrapped around almost every packaged food in the supermarket you’ll find nutrition information. Today’s food labels carry many types of nutrition and health information, to help you make choices and fit foods you like into your meals and snacks. Read on for more about A nutrient content claim such as “low-fat” or “high-fiber” helps you easily find foods that meet your specific nutrition goals. See “Label Lingo” in this chapter for specific nutrient content claims.

The Nutrition Facts give specifics about the calories and nutrients, such as fat, saturated fat, Trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, and vitamins and minerals, in a single label serving of the food. This information must appear on virtually all food labels.

Structure/Function Claims on the Label

Structure/function claims such as “helps promote urinary tract health” describes how a nutrient or a food substance may affect your health; these claims cannot suggest any link to lowered risk for disease. Unlike health claims, structure/function claims don’t need FDA approval or review, and they have no specific standards that regulate the wording. However, they still must be truthful and not misleading.

Dietary Guidance Statements

The FDA with the National Cancer Institute also may give dietary guidance. For example, “Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases.”

Food Labels: Food Safety and Handling Tips

For your good health, some food labels offer guidance on food safety and handling. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, raw and partially cooked meat and poultry products must be labeled with guidelines for safe handling. See the “Safe Handling Instructions” label. Each of the simple graphics—a refrigerator, hand washing, fry pan, and meat thermometer— represents a safe handling tip.

More Health-Focused Label “Info”

Food allergen labeling: As of 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires allergen labeling for foods containing a major food allergen or a protein from these allergens: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. These allergens account for 90 percent of all food allergies. For example, it may say: “Contains milk, egg, peanuts.”

More Reading on the Food Label

Taking a few more moments with food labels teaches even more about the food inside the package. Type of food. The product name tells what’s in the container. Besides naming the specific food, it tells the form, perhaps smooth or chunky, sliced or whole, or miniature—important to know when you’re following a recipe.

Last word

Nutrition Facts help you make trade-offs. For example, a switch from regular to lean hot dogs likely saves both total fat and saturated fat grams and calories without giving up protein.

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