What a Food Label Really Means

While you may look at a label and be able to see an enormous amount of information such as calorie content, fat, fiber and ingredients, don’t be fooled into thinking that you know everything about that food.  There are ingredients in the product that are not listed and there are many claims on boxes that are "skewed" truths. 

The FDA is responsible for regulating most food products while the USDA is responsible for regulating meat and poultry products.  In 1990 Congress required mandatory labeling  to appear on most foods regulated by the FDA.  No such law exists for the USDA, however.  Because of this, there are many convoluted laws in regards to food labeling.  Here are some of them….

1.  Whole Grain: 
a. "Made with Whole Grain": This means that the product contains some level of whole grain.  It can be as little as 1%.  No specified amount is required.
b. "MultiGrain":  Is a mixture of grains that can be mostly refined with minimal nutritional value.
For more information please visit:  www.wholegrainscouncil.org

2. Fat Free/Calorie Free:
If a serving contains less than 5 calories, they can claim it is calorie free.  If a serving has less that half of a gram of fat, it can be called fat free.   This may seem like no big deal but look at this example:  a can of PAM cooking spray, which claims zero calories and zero fat per serving, actually contains 1638 calories and 100% fat in the entire can.  The same goes for Promise Ultra Fat Free, which is 100% fat.  This is also the case with labels that claim they are "trans fat free".  For more information on terms and what they really mean visit www.fda.gov/fdac/special/foodlabel/lite.html

3. Meat Labeling
Meat and Poultry products label fat content based on weight or volume and not calories.  In fact, 93% lean ground beef (7% fat by weight) is actually 45% fat by calories.  And 97% lean pre-packaged meat is actually 18% fat by calories.  Please visit www.cspinet.net/nah/junebeef.htm for more information.

My point is not to get you to stop using PAM or eating meat.  It is meant to educate you on the fact that food labels are not always what they seem.  Stay on your toes and pay attention.  As consumers you have a right to know what you put into your body.

This blog article contains excerpts from Professional Fitness Trainer Magazine, www.fit-pro.com.  October 2006 issue, "Reading Underneath the Label".  Written by Dr. Jane Pentz.

About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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