What’s in a Label?

What’s in a Label?

Picture of a Heart Healthy front of the box label

Not all front of the box labels are approved and defined by the FDA. Learn what health claims are approved for use. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski

For those of us who read food labels, grocery shopping can be a confusing maze of health claims enticing us to make what look like healthy choices. But, are these choices really healthy? When I noticed that my shampoo was gluten-free, I decided it was time to refresh my knowledge on food and product labels and figure out what is behind the label.

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), requires the labeling of most food and sets consistent standards for certain nutritional content and health claims. Much of the consistent information we find on food products is the result of this regulation. Food products must contain the Nutrition Facts panel, use common household measurements for serving sizes, and clearly identify any food allergens. Ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight using common names and clearly identifying certified color additives such as “FD&C Red No. 40” or “Red 40.” Raw vegetables, fruits, and seafood are exempt from nutrition labeling requirements.

The FDA regulates the use of the word “healthy” on food products. To use this term, a food product must be low in fat and saturated fat, low in cholesterol, contain less than 480 mg of sodium, and contain at least 10% of the Daily Value per serving for vitamins A, C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber. Exceptions include raw fruits and vegetables; or a single ingredient or mixture of frozen or canned fruits and vegetables; and enriched cereal-grain products. Seafood and meat products and main dishes or meals have slightly different regulations to meet the “healthy” criteria.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates and enforces the use of “certified organic”. To use the USDA certified organic seal, the final product must follow strict production and handling standards. Products with this seal have completed a certification process meeting standards in soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control, and certifying that they have not used synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.

The USDA also regulates labels for meat and meat products. “Certified” means the USDA has officially evaluated a meat product for class, grade, or other quality characteristics (e.g., “Certified Angus Beef”). Products labelled “natural” must not contain artificial ingredients, added color, and must be minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the word “natural” such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”. Meat and meat products claiming “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” Beef products can make the claim if the producer has documentation showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals. Meat and poultry producers must also provide appropriate documentation that animals were raised without antibiotics to use the label “no antibiotics added”. The term “Chemical free” is not allowed on labels.

Not all front-of-the-box marketing terms and labels are defined by the FDA. When reading labels and deciphering health information, watch out for misleading terms and health claims that seem to good to be true. Learn what health claims are approved and which ones are not. Remember, packaging is designed to attract your attention and entice you to make a purchase. Read the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list to make the healthiest choice for you and your family.

Picture of a Nutrition Facts label.

Read the Nutrition Facts panel to make healthy food choices. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski

Here are some other approved labels:

Juice: Juice must be 100% juice. If less than 100% juice, the product must use the terms cocktail, beverage or drink.

High or Excellent Source: Contains more than 20% of the Daily Value per serving.

Good Source: Contains 10-19% of the Daily Value per serving.

Lean: Seafood or meat contains less than 10 g total fat, 4.5 g or less saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving.

Extra Lean: Seafood or meat products contain less than 5 g total fat, less than 2 g saturated fat and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving.

Fiber Claims:­ If a product makes a fiber claim but the food is not low-fat, then the label must state the total fat per serving.

Antioxidant Claims: The nutrients must be included as part of the claim for example, high in antioxidant vitamins C & E.

Whole Grain and Heart Disease Claims: Food product contains 51% or more whole grain ingredients.

Gluten-free: This is a voluntary label for food products that are either naturally gluten free or gluten (e.g., wheat flour) has been removed to less than 20 ppm.

References:

A Food Labeling Guide:  Guidance for Industry.  2013.  Available at:  https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/guidance%20complianceregulatoryinformation/%20guidancedocuments/foodlabelingnutrition/foodlabelingguide/ucm265446.pdf

McEvoy, M. Understanding the USDA Organic Label. 2016.  Available at:  https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label

Questions and Answers: Gluten-Free Food Labeling Final Rule.  Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362880.htm

Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms.  Available at:  https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms

Family and Consumer Sciences Agent III
Interim -Northwest District
155 Research Road, Quincy, FL
Office:  850-875-7135
Email: hughson@ufl.edu

 

Aim for a Healthier YOU in 2019

Aim for a Healthier YOU in 2019

Carrots, zucchini, and green pepper stir fry in a wok.

Make SMART changes for your health. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Northwest District

“New Year, New Me!” – the same phrase we hear and see posted all over social media every time the new year rolls around.  More often than not, resolutions tied to each new year involve diet and weight changes.  But how does one actually commit to these new resolutions year round?

Step 1: Forget Fads and “Dieting” 

The world of nutrition can seem overwhelming with the various diets that are continuously marketed as “the next best thing for your health.”  However, most diets, such as Paleo, Vegan/Vegetarianism, Keto, etc., exclude one or more food groups from the diet, which only makes things more challenging. In reality, eating healthy does not need to be that difficult.  According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern “accounts for ALL foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.”  Essentially, moderation is key!

In addition to fads, scratch the word “diet” from your vocabulary.  Dieting implies something short term or there is an end date in mind.  To build healthy, sustainable eating patterns, we want to make lifestyle changes.  A healthy lifestyle not only incorporates what you eat, but includes exercise and a healthy mind as well!  Use SMART goals to help attain your healthy eating/lifestyle changes for 2019: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Time-bound.

Step 2: Focus on Food Groups

Instead of counting calories in 2019, let us count food groups!  How many food groups does your meal have?  Is there a protein?  Vegetables? Healthy fats?  Foods are generally classified into three main groups, or macronutrients.  By definition, macronutrients are types of food required in large amounts in the diet. Such foods are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Proteins include all types of meats such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef. Other foods high in protein include eggs, dairy products, legumes (peas and beans), various nuts, and soy products.  Proteins are the basic building blocks of your bones, muscles, skin, and blood. Your body uses proteins to build and repair your tissues and it is an essential nutrient for the human body.  Strive to include a rich source of protein at every main meal!  How much protein do you need? Aim to include 20-30 grams, or 4-6 ounces, at every main meal.  That is the equivalent of a chicken breast that is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.

Carbohydrates include simple sugars, all types of grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of and preferred fuel for daily activities.  It may be somewhat confusing as to what are appropriate carbohydrates to add in your diet.  To simplify things, aim to include at least two different carbohydrates in your meal.  Perhaps that includes a grain (aim to make half of all your grains whole grains) plus a variety of vegetables.  If you really want to add a cookie to your lunch, then make sure to include some fruit or vegetables as well!

Fats are a food group that often carry a negative reputation.  However, fat plays an essential role as an ingredient in hormone production, in helping to protect our organs, absorption of vitamins and nutrients, as well as providing a good amount of energy!  Fats are subdivided into four groups: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. The word unsaturated indicates that these types of fats are liquid at room temperature and make up much of our healthy fats we want to include in our diet.  Such fats are those found in olive oils, avocados, nuts, and seed oils and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and include butter, cheese, and fatty streaks you find in meats.  Trans fats are a manufactured form of fat in which food manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid fats in order to make them more solid.  Trans fats have been known to increase LDLs or bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol or HDLs, and are linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  According to the American Heart Association and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we want to limit trans and saturated fats in our diets and focus on including more oils, nuts, and fish.

Step 3: Make Small, Adaptable Changes

If you are used to consuming large amounts of processed foods and sugary beverages, the thought of completely giving up those things can be very daunting. Implementing new strategies to eat healthier begins with small and adaptable changes.  Slow incorporation of more lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables can help make the transition far less challenging.

For example, most often, macaroni and cheese is made with white pasta and high fat cheese.  To modify this meal and make it healthier, try substituting whole grain pasta for regular pasta.  Next, experiment by adding some of your favorite vegetables and a lean protein such as chicken or tuna.  Look for 2% or low fat cheese in the grocery store to replace the regular high fat version.   These simple changes will allow you to still enjoy your favorite meal, reduce the sodium and fat content, and increase your consumption of vegetables and proteins!

Small subtle changes are key to creating long-term healthy habits. The transition to building healthier eating patterns will be much easier if you shift the focus to include more of what our bodies need and less on “dieting.”  If you find yourself struggling to make healthier meals, https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate is a great resource to educate yourself on how to build and maintain a healthy diet!

Healthful – and Yummy – Holiday Treats!

Healthful – and Yummy – Holiday Treats!

Cranberries cooking

It may seem like the year has barely started, but the holiday season is here! A little bit of planning now can go a long way toward avoiding that, “I blew my diet and need bigger jeans” feeling. Believe it or not, there are holiday treats that are nutritionally guilt-free, as long as you don’t go overboard. As with so many other things, moderation is the key! Below are some classic holiday favorite foods with hidden health benefits:

Sweet Potatoes: It’s no secret that sweet potatoes are good for you – but they may have even more benefits than you think! Sweet potatoes contain a lot of Vitamin A. That’s a great source of alpha and beta carotene that helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system in top shape. Sweet potatoes are also one of the top food sources of potassium, with almost twice as much of the mineral as you find in a banana. When choosing sweet potatoes, look for ones that are firm with tapered ends and a uniform shape and color. Miniature sweet potatoes are fun and pack the same great health benefits.

Cranberries: Bright red cranberries are a little too tart to eat alone but they add a beautiful festive touch to any holiday table. With only 45 calories per cup plus a healthy dose of Vitamin C and fiber, they’re a winner all the way around. Cranberries also have more disease-fighting antioxidants than almost every other fruit and vegetable. Buy cranberries fresh in the fall and winter and use them soon, as they don’t last long. Store them in a tightly sealed bag in your refrigerator to keep them fresh longer.

Nuts: Yes, they’re high in calories – and fat – but nuts are also loaded with vitamins and minerals. Eating a handful of nuts a few times a week may lower your risk of heart disease. Nuts are full of antioxidants, energy and protein. Think of nuts, in moderation, as a Christmas gift for your body!

Cocoa: What better way to begin – or end – the day than a steaming hot cup of chocolate? Knowing the health benefits of cocoa give us even more reason to love it. Remember those healthful antioxidants? Dark chocolate is loaded with them. In fact, if you choose dark chocolate with a high percent of cocoa solids, you may help lower your blood pressure, improve your blood vessel health and control your cholesterol. So, give in to those chocolate cravings – in moderation, of course!

There are lots of ways to make healthier holiday dishes. Check with your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for delicious recipe ideas that won’t break your budget or your waistline.

Eat to Thrive

Eat to Thrive

Healthy Pantry
Photo Source: Angela Hinkle

We eat to survive, right? Yes, but when you really think about it, we eat to thrive. Food is more than calories for energy. Food brings family and friends together. It provides comfort. It makes our bodies healthy and can protect us from diseases. The next time you give to a food pantry, think about what you can give to help those in need thrive, not just survive. So, how do you donate food to thrive?


A Balanced Diet

It’s important to eat from every food group every day. It’s important to give those in need the chance to eat every food group every day. This way, they get a variety of nutrients needed for healthy bodies. Choose healthier choices from each food group. See https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ for more information.


Fruits & Veggies: Half MyPlate

  • Fruits and vegetables provide so many good vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.
  • All forms count – canned, frozen, fresh, dried, and juice.
  • Canned fruit in 100% juice (Lite or heavy syrup equals a little or a lot of added sugar.)
  • Juices that are 100% fruit or vegetables.
  • Low- or no-sodium canned vegetables (Higher sodium intake tends to go hand-in-hand with higher blood pressure.)
  • Try to stay away from high-fat, high-sodium, and high-sugar syrups and sauces.
  • Packaged dried fruits and veggies are both popular now.
  • The more fruits and vegetables, the better!


Whole Grains

  • The whole edible part of the grain plant gives us fiber and loads of nutrients to keep us healthy. They even have special parts that help fight diseases.
  • Look for the word whole at the beginning of the ingredient list.
  • Help pantries stock whole grain crackers, hot and cold cereals, and tortillas. Donate whole grain pasta and brown rice.


Lean Proteins

  • Protein helps build and repair tissue.
  • Protein provides the building blocks of muscles, bones, skin, and blood.
  • Go for lower-sodium and lower-fat choices. (Most of us over the age of two don’t need that extra fat.)
  • Donate tuna, chicken, or salmon in water.
  • Peanut butter is always popular.
  • Try offering a variety of packaged seeds and nuts.


Dairy

  • The calcium in dairy foods makes strong bones and teeth.
  • Try low-fat versions of shelf-stable milk.
  • Non-fat dry milk is great for sauces and casseroles as well as drinking. (If used for drinking, it tastes best to add the coldest water possible.)
  • Low-fat yogurt and cheeses are a nice complement for pantries with refrigeration.
  • For those who can’t have dairy, offer calcium-fortified soy or almond milk, cereal, or orange juice.

So don’t just think “feed them” when you donate, think “feed them well.” Donate beyond survive. Donate to thrive.

 

Freezing: Nature’s Pause Button – March is National Frozen Food Month

Freezing: Nature’s Pause Button – March is National Frozen Food Month

Based on information provided by the American Frozen Food Institute, on average, 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten and wasted, which is an annual loss of $165 million. Fresh fruit and vegetable waste makes up nearly one-third of this number. With these discouraging numbers and financial losses, how can the frozen food industry help to solve this problem?  Frozen food and beverage companies work hard to create the safest and best freezing techniques to keep food safe by preventing microorganisms from growing and by slowing down the enzyme activity that causes food to spoil. Modern freezing techniques have been designed to preserve food at its peak freshness and nutrient content. Frozen food makers continue to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to keep America’s food supply the safest in the world.

Freezing means less wasted food and easier access to well-balanced, portion-controlled nutritious foods during every season and in every community. Many times, frozen foods cost less per serving, but most importantly, they have a longer shelf life than fresh or refrigerated foods.

How do frozen foods play such an integral part in the well-balanced, nutritious diets of Americans?  The frozen food aisle offers a large variety of vegetables, fruits, and other prepared foods at reasonable prices year ’round. Freezing reduces the need for additives and preservatives. Frozen foods also provide nutritious options that fit into all of the food groups suggested by Choose MyPlate.gov (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy). They also are a sensible choice when trying to control calories and fat, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium intake. In addition, unused products can be placed back in the freezer for later use.

If you have concerns about frozen foods, it’s time to rethink them. Let’s BUST those crazy frozen food myths swirling around out there!!!

FROZEN FOOD MYTHS VS. FACTS

MYTH: FROZEN FRUITS AND VEGGIES AREN’T AS NUTRITIOUS AS FRESH

FACT: Recent studies found there is no difference in nutrition between frozen and fresh produce.

MYTH: FROZEN FOODS ARE READY TO EAT
FACT: Frozen foods are ready to cook, not ready to eat. As their name suggests, ready-to-cook foods must be cooked or baked according to package instructions.

MYTH: FROZEN MEALS DON’T USE REAL INGREDIENTS
FACT: The freezer aisles of your supermarket are filled with meals made with the highest quality ingredients and prepared the way you would prepare them (if you had the time).

MYTH: FROZEN MEALS AREN’T ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY
FACT: Actually, frozen foods minimize the amount of spoiled food we throw away because they are already portioned out, so we can take what we need and save the rest.

MYTH: FROZEN MEALS ARE MORE EXPENSIVE THAN RESTAURANT TAKE-OUT MEALS
FACT: Restaurant-inspired entrees like seafood scampi, sesame chicken, and Monterey chicken cost under $4 each. You do the math.

MYTH: FROZEN MEALS ARE NOT A GOOD CHOICE FOR HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS
FACT: “Better-for-you” options are available in the frozen food aisle to make it easier for consumers to control intake of calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.

For more information on the frozen food and beverage industry, please visit www.affi.org.

For more information on incorporating frozen foods into your healthy lifestyle, please visit: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fs186.