Ask the Expert: How to Read Nutrition Labels

March 18th, 2014 by Live Well Omaha Kids

Written by Courtney Brewer, Live Well Omaha Kids

Last week on our Facebook page, we hosted a webchat with one of our experts, Audra Losey, MS, RD. Audra Losey is a wife and mom of two young children. She is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Community Nutrition and Health Promotion and dual bachelor degrees in Exercise Science and Dietetics. Audra is employed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension teaching limited resource families in Douglas and Sarpy counties about healthy eating on a budget in the Nutrition Education Program. She’s especially interested in teaching kids about food and physical activity, and connecting with parents to improve the health of the whole family.

During the chat, we had some great conversation! I wanted to recap what was discussed for those of you that missed it or maybe don’t have access or an account on Facebook. I’ll work through the questions and the in-depth answers that Audra shared.

Q: Can you explain how to use the %DV on the label? What does it mean and how is it helpful?
A: That is actually a really common question. You’ll notice a percentage on the right hand side of the label. That is called the Percent Daily Value. It is meant to be a guide to help you link nutrients in a serving of food to their contribution to your total DAILY diet. So, if a food provides 20% Daily Value for Sodium for example, that means one serving of that food contains 20% of the Sodium you need for the day. As a general rule, 20% DV is considered “high” and 5% DV or less is considered “low” in a nutrient.

Q: How much sugar is a good amount to get in a day?
A: There is not a percent daily value for sugar, however, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6-9 teaspoons per day for adults.

Q: Is there a recommended amount of sugar for children?
A: There isn’t an official recommendation on sugar for kids, that I can think of. The overall goal is set for carbohydrates in general (sugar is a carbohydrate). For kids over 2 about 50-60% of calories should come from carbs with added sugar being limited.

Q: How do you know how many teaspoons of sugar you’re getting from a food or drink using the nutrition label? It lists sugar in grams, doesn’t it?
A: There are 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon. An example, one can of pop contains 39 g of sugar. Divide 39 by 4 to get teaspoons. So a 12 oz. can of pop has nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Q: What about fruit? Doesn’t that have sugar?
A: Fruit is naturally sweet and it does provide energy in the form of fructose, which is a type of sugar.

Q: If I’m in a hurry at the store, what should I focus on?
A: I always encourage people to check the serving size first. The info on the label is based on ONE serving of the food. Then, look at what nutrients the food offers. Are any of the vitamins and minerals (Vitamin A, Calcium, Iron, etc.) high or 20% Daily Value? So what are you getting for those calories? If nutrients like Sodium and Cholesterol, Fat are high that would be a food to eat in smaller quantities.

Q: The current nutrition label is based off of a 2000 calorie diet, correct? Will that be changing at all with the new nutrition labels? Can you talk a little bit about what exactly is changing on the new labels?
A: Correct, the label based on a 2000 calorie diet. The changes aren’t guaranteed to happen. They are just proposed at this point. It would increase the size of the Calories so it stands out more, require info about “added sugars”, update serving sizes to be more realistic to what people eat, the % Daily Value would move to the left to be more visible.

Q: Is there any move to make the serving sizes on the labels more in line with what folks are truly taking in as a serving size?
A: Yes, actually there are proposed changes to the food label that would make the serving size more realistic to what people actually eat. You can learn more here: http://www.fda.gov/…/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htmlogo-choose-my-plate-170x155

Q: Is there a certain rule of how many carbs, proteins or fats you should get in a meal?
A: You could break down a meal into grams of carbs, protein and fat, but in reality that isn’t a very fun or realistic way to eat. Using the MyPlate as an image to follow you can design your plate to include a balance of each food group.

Q: What makes Ensure or Pediasure bad for children who don’t have a eating disorder or weight management problem?
A: I wouldn’t necessarily call them “bad,” but more unnecessary and not very cost-effective. If a child is eating a variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, meats/protein sources, dairy and grains they should be getting a balance of the vitamins and minerals they need. It is important to look at their overall diet because it can be common for young children to have meals where they just aren’t interested or as hungry so they may not eat as much as it seems they should. Plus, our bodies absorb nutrients better from the foods they naturally come in. It is best to try to get our vitamins and minerals from food rather than from a supplement. If you are concerned about your specific child’s diet quality, I recommend talking with your pediatrician.

Q: Can you please clarify the recommended servings of fruits/veggies for kids — the same (size & amount) as adults?
A: The recommended servings will depend on age, gender and activity level for adults and kids. You can go to MyPlate to find out what is recommended for a specific person. Here is a page with daily food plans to make the info more accessible – http://choosemyplate.gov/supertrack…/daily-food-plans.html

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Here’s a sample nutrition label. Looking at this label, aim to increase the nutrients in blue. For the nutrients in purple, check to see if the product contains any Dietary Fiber.

To keep in touch with Audra, head over to UNL University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Know How or follow on twitter @AudraLosey.

Continue to follow Live Well Omaha Kids on Facebook for more Ask the Expert webchats!

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