The ABCs of Food Labels

Back-to-school season creates a special kind of homework for parents. It’s the daily kitchen challenge of putting together nutritious breakfasts, snacks and lunches for school-age kids.

Fortunately, those chores can be less puzzling when you break down product labels, according to Karla Otero and Maria (Lupita) Townsend, certified specialists in oncology nutrition at Baptist Hospital. Here are their recommendations for decoding food labels.

Breakfast Cereals

If you’re serving cereal, look for these guidelines on the Nutrition Facts panel: 

  • Sugar: no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Fiber: at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Fat: no trans fat.
  • Sodium: no more than 175 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Protein: at least 3 grams of protein/ serving. 

    Sweet Red Flags

  • Watch out for surprising sources of sugar, which can be hidden in breads, pastas, sauces, yogurts, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and other products.
  • Learn to recognize other names for sugar, including fructose, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, corn syrup, maltose, lactose and other forms.

    False Claims

    Do you know how to spot a misleading label? Here are a few facts to keep on hand:

  • Low calorie: A product must have less than 40 calories per serving to support a low-calorie claim.
  • Low cholesterol: 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • Low sodium: Less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Reduced calorie, sugar or fat:  25 percent less of the calories, or specified nutrient than a comparable product.
  • High fiber: 5 or more grams of fiber per serving
  • Good source of (_____): A product must provide at least 10 percent of the daily value of the advertised vitamin or nutrient per serving in order to claim that it is “a good source of”  that nutrient.
  • High in (______): Provides 20 percent or more of the daily value of a specified nutrient.

     Look for:

  • Total calories per serving.
  • The serving size and the number of servings per package. “Don’t be fooled by serving size and container size,” Ms. Otero said. “One container can contain several portions. You may be eating far more calories than you realize.”
  • Number of calories from fat.
  •  And remember:  Product ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.  Those in larger amounts appear first on the label. So if sugar is listed first, select your portions carefully or look for a healthier option.

    “Aim for fresh instead of processed food. Focus on fruits and vegetables,” Ms. Otero said. “When you purchase packaged or processed foods, spend time reading labels.  Know what you are eating and serving your family.”


    Healthcare that Cares

    With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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