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Label reading lessons

Supplies: assorted food packages as named here or ones you find on your own. Use in class or for bulletin boards and newsletters.

Food label reading is one of the most popular topics according to our survey to more than 400 nutrition and food professionals for 2008.

We know from our own experience that label reading makes a big difference for what we put in the cart. Once you take the time to learn the best choices of the foods you regularly buy, you can save time and go into auto pilot with shopping.

We believe there are 3 very important lessons: 1) portion control and calorie realization and 2) comparisons for lower sodium, fat and sugar and 3) claim qualification

1) Portion Control and calorie realization:

It is a great idea to bring in items that look like one serving but are more. Ideas include bottles of tea that most people drink in one serving but are really for 2 or more, large candy bars and bags of mini cookies.

The other lesson in this category is to use a large box of cookies or a cake and to calculate the total calories you are bringing into the house with this item - this is the amount of excess/discretionary calories you will bring for the week.

2) Comparisons for lower sodium, fat and sugar:

• Skim milk versus whole milk = big difference in fat

• Nonfat egg substitute versus whole eggs

• Regular canned tomatoes versus the same product labeled “no added salt”

• Low calorie margarine versus regular margarine or butter

• Yogurt that contains fat and sugar versus fat-free light versions

• Diet beverages versus ones that are sweetened with sugar

• Ice cream that is full fat versus the light, low-fat whipped version

• Bottled salad dressing that are high in sodium compared to regular flavored vinegar

• Loaves of bread and boxes of cereal that contain more mg of sodium than calories. A lot of sodium does come from the grains category.

• Boxes of packaged rice and pasta mixes that contain a lot more salt than plain rice or pasta

3) Claim qualification: These lessons dispel myths of shoppers or health claims on the package that one might incorrectly assume:

• Sugar-free ice cream often DOESN’T have fewer calories than regular ice cream (but fat-free often does)

• Baked chips that are not that much lower in calories than the fried versions - portion control still matters here!

• Reduced fat cookies are not that much lower in calories than the regular versions - this applies to almost all baked goods

• No-trans-fat frozen entrees are very high in fat, sodium and calories

• Crackers that claim no cholesterol are still high in trans fat or saturated fat.

• Cereals and many other products that claim whole grain are high in sugar, sodium and or fat.

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