I have heard many times how confusing the nutrition facts label can be. “What do I look at? How much am I supposed to get? What is important for me?” The nutrition facts label can be very complex, especially when we haven’t been told how to decipher it. By the way, the FDA is proposing to update the Nutrition Facts label in an effort to improve the health of the public, by incorporating the new nutrition recommendations to reduce the risk of chronic diseases (good news!). Until we have a date that this new label is going to be put into effect, let’s focus on the current nutrition facts label for now.
For those of you who don’t want to read this entire blog and prefer to get straight to the point, the one thing I will tell you is this…
Now for those of you who like more detail, read on!
There are a few things I like to point out to people when I review the label with them.
What are those 'bad fats'?
Trans fats should be avoided, as much as possible. Trans fats are found mostly in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Even if the food label says '0 g trans fat', that doesn’t necessarily mean it has no trans fat. It could have up to half a gram of trans fat per serving. So check the ingredient list for 'partially hydrogenated oils' – those are trans fats! However, there is more good news coming! The FDA has given food manufacturers three years to remove the partially hydrogenated oils from their products. After that time, partially hydrogenated oils will not be allowed to be added to human food, unless otherwise approved by the FDA .
Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, saturated fats should be kept to less than 10% of daily calories (ex. For a 2,000 calorie diet, your daily saturated fat intake should be less than 22 grams). Saturated fats are most commonly found in high fat animal sources (such as meat, dairy and butter).
So what does all this “fat talk” mean? We should be focusing on getting our fats from healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). These unsaturated fats can help lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Unsaturated fats include plant-based oils (olive, peanut, sesame), avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are not required to be shown on food labels, however some manufacturers opt to list these to give credibility to their healthy food product. If monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are NOT listed, simply subtract the saturated and trans fats from the total fat grams, and any remaining grams of fat come from healthy unsaturated fats.
Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of the current food label, and some of the new Dietary Guidelines!