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Nutrition Wisdom from WOW Members: Learning from our peers and tackling the Nutrition Label

01.18.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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By Jane Jakubczak, Redskins Team Nutritionist, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN

I’ve enjoyed reading the comments from WOW members on my blog entires and appreciate you all taking the time to share! I encourage everyone to read the recommendations your peers offer - I believe we learn best from our peers so don't be afraid to post your own experiences and questions below.

Even I’ve picked up several ideas and look forward to trying them out myself! One WOW member told us about an energy bar with low sodium here. She is smart to check the sodium level to help her manage hypertension (high blood pressure). Thanks Barnesba2 for providing me with not only a new product to recommend to my patients, but also two very important nutrition topics to address:

 - Food Labels (the "Nutrution Facts" label)

 - Dietary Sodium Intake

For today, let's tackle food labels.

I have a huge poster of a Nutrition Facts label in my office, which I refer my clients to on a daily basis. Most of them focus strictly on the calorie content, the fat grams and/or the grams of sugar. This information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using this resource to improve your diet.

My favorite resource on how to use the Nutrition Label is found on a wonderful Teen Health Website. I urge all my clients, no matter their age, to check it out here. If you have pre-teens/teens in your family, I highly recommend sitting down and reviewing it together.

For a more specific explanation of the Nutrition Facts label related to health concerns such as hypertension, my “go to” website is the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.

There are two points I’d like to highlight regarding the Nutrition Facts label:

The “Serving Size” is a source of confusion for many.

• The food manufacturer determines this “serving size”, it is not necessarily the same as the serving size connected to the Food Guidance System (food pyramid/choose my plate) or the Diabetic Exchange System.
• The “serving size” is simply telling you that all the nutrient numbers listed in that Nutrition Facts Label is related to that amount of the product.
• Many times we eat more than this amount and that is okay, however it is important in this case to multiply the number of servings you are actually consuming to accurately calculate the amount of nutrients you are taking in.

A 20 oz bottle of soda is a good example of this confusion. The label may say the serving size equals 8 oz, therefore all the nutrient information below it is for 8 oz worth of the product.
The calories in 8 oz of soda equals approximately 115 calories. However, it is a 20 oz bottle so there are actually 2.5 servings. If you drink the whole bottle (and who ever stops at half the bottle?) then the true caloric amount of the bottle is closer to 280 calories, NOT the 115 calories listed at the top (115 x 2.5 = 287.5). The label is not lying, however it can be misleading!

Another serving size issue I see with many of my clients is letting the food industry tell them how much they should eat. How would one brand know how much  YOU should eat? I see this all the time with cereals - My clients feel guilty if they eat more than the package’s serving size. Have you ever noticed how small the “serving size” on a cereal box is? Who can eat only ¾ cup of cereal? Again, that serving size is telling you how much product relates to the nutrition information underneath it, it is not telling you how much you should eat. It is very appropriate for most people to eat at least 2 servings of cereal for breakfast.

The quantity of sugar can be misleading.

• The second point I’d like to highlight is the amount of sugar grams on the Nutrition Facts label. It's important to understand that this number does not distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar.
• The health message to Americans is to reduce the added sugar in our diets - sugar-containing foods such as candy, baked goods and soda. However, there are natural sugars that are found in health enhancing foods such as fruit and yogurt, and we want to make sure we continue to include these types of foods in our diets.

It breaks my heart as a dietitian to see my clients avoiding yogurt because of the sugar content. Sure, there is some added sugar in these products to make them taste good however the total number of sugar grams on the label is a bit misleading. The total sugar grams include lactose, which is a natural sugar in milk products!

So when someone says that yogurt contains as much sugar as a candy bar (which contains all added sugar) they are comparing apples to oranges – it’s not a fair comparison. Until the Nutrition Facts label distinguishes between added sugar and natural sugar, the amount of sugar grams has limited value.

It is best to use this information when comparing two of the same type of products. If you are undecided between yogurts or granola bars, cereals, etc., then this information would be helpful for you to choose the product with the least amount of sugar.

I encourage you to check out the websites above and begin comparing food labels. It’s a wealth of information that can have a huge impact on the quality of your diet.

Make it a healthy week!
Jane

I’d like to use our reader nutrition questions as the foundation of future blogs! Please don’t hesitate to post any pressing dietary inquiry or nutrition issue you have. You can also post to the WOW Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WOWRedskins.

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