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Reading Food Labels
Reading Food Labels
If you want to develop some healthy eating habits or improve your diet, try doing some light reading at the grocery store. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight means eating smart. You need to know what is in the food you eat and to do that, you need to know how to read food labels.

The Nutrition Facts Panel gives you information on nutrient content of the food item based on a specific serving size. They are required on most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc.

A study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1997 found that nutrient labelling does affect consumer purchasing behavior. Providing nutrient information may allow consumers to more easily switch consumption away from 'unhealthy' products in those food categories where differences in other quality characteristics (e.g., taste) are relatively small.
Nutrition Information Panel
The nutrition information panel contain information on the number of serving per package, serving size for which the nutrients are listed, and the nutrient listing. It also contains information on the percent of Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for 4 nutrients namely vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. So in the sample shown on the left, you can see that each serving provides 80% of RDI for vitamin A, 60% for vitamin C and 4% each for calcium and iron.
The panel also includes the recommended amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, and dietary fiber for a 2000 calorie diet ie. less than 65 grams fat, less than 20 grams of saturated fat, etc.

Serving Sizes
Pay attention to the serving size, including how many servings there are in the food package, and compare it to how much YOU actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the label. For example the nutrient content could be given for 1/2 cup cereal or 1 cookie. But if you normally eat 1-1/2 cups of cereal or 3 cookies, you have to multiply all the nutrients such as calories, fat, etc. by a factor of 3.

Nutrient Listing required (other nutrients voluntary):
  • Total calories
  • Calories from fat
  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrate (excluding dietary fiber;
  • Dietary fiber
  • Sugars
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Iron
If a claim is made about any of the optional components, or if a food is fortified or enriched with any of them, nutrition information for these components becomes mandatory.

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