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Nutrition Expert Helps Decipher Ingredient Labels

When the subject is how to improve your diet by eating healthier, local news media frequently engage the team of registered dietitians and nutrition experts at Baptist Health South Florida. In a recent story on how to read and understand product nutrition labels, NBC6 turned to Carla Duenas, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health.


In her interview, Ms. Duenas shared a few tips on what to look for and what to avoid in nutrition labels, which were overhauled in 2020 by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to make them more transparent and useful for consumers. According to Ms. Duenas, there are two important parts of every nutrition label – daily values and ingredient lists.


Carla Duenas smiling for a photo. She is wearing a white blouse and has a gray background with her hair down to her right side.


Carla Duenas, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health



“Daily values guide us to make the healthiest choices by telling us how much of a certain nutrient a product contains relative to the FDA’s recommended daily allowance for that nutrient,” Ms. Duenas explains. “These are useful in helping us increase the healthy nutrients our bodies need and reduce those that we tend to get too much of in our daily diet and can affect our health – especially sugar, sodium and saturated fats, or the Three S’s as we call them.”


If, for example, a product contains five percent or less of the daily value for sugar, that’s relatively low, according to Ms. Duenas. “But if that number is 20 percent or more, that would be considered high and I would encourage you to find a lower-sugar or sugar-free alternative.” On the other hand, she says, if a product contains 20 percent of the daily value for fiber – “the one nutrient we should increase in our diet” – a high number is considered beneficial.


Ingredient lists are equally important, says Ms. Duenas. “In general, the shorter the list, the healthier the item will be,” she notes. “Each of the product’s ingredients is listed in order of descending weight, which means the first ingredient listed is found in the largest amount.”


For that reason, Ms. Duenas recommends focusing on the first three to five ingredients listed on the label. “When buying yogurt, for example, the first ingredient should be milk, not sugar,” she says. “The same goes for other products like cereals and granola bars. We want a wheat product or starch as the first ingredient, not sugars or oils.”


Ms. Duenas says Community Health at Baptist Health offers a variety of free classes, events and support groups at locations around South Florida that provide opportunities for residents to improve mind, body and spirit.


“We offer Pilates, Zumba, yoga, Tai Chi, meditation and nutrition classes throughout the week, as well as support groups for a variety of health interests,” says Ms. Duenas. “Some of them are in-person, others are Zoom classes that you can take from the comfort of your own home or wherever you happen to be.”

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