Understanding Nutrition Labels for Your Family



BY JAMIE LOBER

 

Busy parents on the go may not always make time to check the nutrition labels to ensure that only the healthiest options end up on the dinner table. What your kids eat matters, as it affects their growth and development.  In May of 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made changes to the label to help families have an easier time making choices about what they eat, in order to prevent obesity and heart disease that can be linked to poor diet. Some highlights of the new label include:

  • Increased font size for “calories,” “servings per container,” and “serving size”;
  • Bolded number of calories and serving size;
  • Daily Value changed to tell how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet;
  • “Added sugars” stated in grams and as a % Daily Value;
  • Amount of Vitamin D and potassium added.

Vitamins A and C are no longer required to be listed on the label, since deficiencies are rare.

The National Institutes of Health suggested that parents look for specific things on the food label, including:

  • Product dates, such as, “sell by,” use by,” and “best if used by”;
  • An ingredient list stating each ingredient in the product.Remember that they are listed by quantity, with the greatest quantity listed first;
  • Nutrition facts label which contains the total number of servings in the product and the food or drink serving size;
  • The Daily Value, which tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a total daily diet based on 2,000 calories a day.

Be sure to consider that the serving size may not reflect the number of people you are serving in your family.  Keep in mind that if you eat more than one serving, you will be consuming more calories, nutrients, sugar, and fat than in a single serving.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offered some pointers for families, such as:

  • Serve low-fat or no-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese;
  • Include small amounts of potatoes, pasta, and rice, because starch helps the body use fat and cholesterol;
  • Avoid butter, sour cream, and gravy, that are high in calories;
  • Try cottage cheese, grated parmesan cheese or low-fat yogurt as toppings;
  • Serve lean meats;
  • Cut away fat and remove skin from poultry;
  • Offer vegetable-based and broth-based soups;
  • Avoid cream-based soups;
  • Cook with vegetable oils;
  • Do not fry;
  • Bake, broil or grill;
  • Include fresh fruit with dessert.

When shopping at the grocery store, do not be fooled by clever marketing tactics.  Common claims usually have something to do with the product being low in fat, high in fiber, being light in sugar or having no sugar added.  Make sure there is documented evidence behind the claims before adding the item to your shelves.  A perfect example is that when a product says it is fat-free, you have to verify that it is not filled with sugar instead.  Something that states it is low in calories may have an added chemical sweetener.  This is why you want to be cautious.

As you become a better shopper, you may want to focus on adding more fruits and vegetables to your cart.  The American Academy of Pediatrics offered some suggestions on how to get your child to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in his or her diet, such as:

  • Providing fruits and vegetables as snacks;
  • Keeping fruit washed and visible in the refrigerator;
  • Serving salad more often;
  • Trying vegetarian recipes for spaghetti, lasagna or chili;
  • Including at least one leafy green vegetable a day for vitamin A, such as spinach or carrots;
  • Including at least one vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable, like oranges, tomato or grapefruit;
  • Adding fruit to cereal.

Now that you have successfully made some smart choices, take the final step to establishing good dietary habits by eating as a family.  You can use this time to find out what is going on in one another’s life and strengthen your bond as a unit.

 


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