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January 18, 2013

The mystery of food labels

Nutritionists educate residents on the basics of serving information

ANDERSON, Ind. — Reading food labels can be intimidating, but by keeping a few things in mind those labels can help consumers lead a healthier life, experts say.

Michelle Richart, community and diabetes educator at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, said they do a lot of label education with patients undergoing diabetes care.

There are four different parts to a label — serving information, the raw numbers, the recommended daily intake and the vitamins and minerals. Richart said the serving size is one of the most critical pieces to that puzzle stressing that it is important to know what an actual serving size is as it impacts the rest of the label.

Jenny Martin, Community Hospital Anderson nutrition coordinator and registered dietician said most people are getting significantly more than what a typical serving is.

“I think they would be absolutely surprised to see what an actual serving size is,” she said.

The “raw numbers” give consumers the number of grams or milligrams of things like fat, calories, carbohydrates and other items, Richart explained. And often next to that raw number is a percentage that shows what portion of the recommended daily intake is for someone consuming a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.

But she stressed if you aren’t following that particular diet then that number essentially is pointless.

“When you look at a label, focus on what is most important to you,” Richart said. “We teach our patients to look at that thing first. If you have a heart condition it may be the sodium. If you have diabetes you look at something different.”

Martin said that labels have changed over the years and what is included on them is mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Know what you are looking for before you look at the label,” she said. “It can be confusing if you don’t understand what you are targeting. People can make things more difficult than they actually are. Look at the grams and milligrams over the percentages.”

Ingredients on labels are listed in the order of what the item contains, ranging from the most to the least, Richart said.

Organic foods are regulated by the USDA. Items labeled as organic must demonstrate that producers are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity and using only approved substances, according to the USDA.

Details for this story were provided by The Herald Bulletin.

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