At last! A label we can actually read without a magnifying glass! The FDA has just released its Food Guidance Regulations for the labeling on food products and one of the first things seniors will notice is that the print is much larger and the more crucial information is in bold type. No longer will you have to struggle to make out the letters and numbers. But there are also several other changes that come with these new regulations and for many of us, choosing our food has become a little easier. And for seniors, this can mean less confusion and much better choices.
We all want to live a healthy life, which depends on a healthy diet. And if you or your loved one are picky eaters or have a health condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, it can be a challenge. So let’s dive into these changes to the labels to see how we can make the best use of this information.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all prepared foods list the nutrient content in that package. They require not only listing the calories, fats, carbohydrates and sodium, but specific vitamins and minerals as well. But to use the labels correctly, means a little caution when reading them.
First is the serving size. This is one of the most important measurements on the label and it is always for one serving. That being said, the entire package, may contain more than one serving so if we consume more than one serving, all of the food values need to be adjusted accordingly.
Portion sizes vary per product, so in order to understand the nutritional value of what we are eating, we need to know what the serving size is for that package. The nutrition information applies only to that serving.
This can become especially important when reading the calorie content. A 2/3 cup serving having 230 calories is quite significant against a 2/3 cup serving of 30 calories! This alone could caution us to either choose another food or be more vigilant on our serving size. For example, a package that contains 8 servings and has 230 calories per serving equates to 1,840 calories if we consumed the whole package or almost the entire daily calorie needs for some of us.
Another caution is that food packaging that claims it is “low cholesterol” or “fat free” doesn’t ensure that that product is either of those. The only way to verify those claims is by seeing what the cholesterol and fat values are on the label. Don’t be fooled by marketing hype or attractive labels that lay claim to something that may not be as it seems.
A not-often used measurement that can be very helpful is the percent daily values (DV) and is always based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories. This helps us calculate balanced meals throughout the day. So, for example, a 2/3 cup serving size that has 10% DV of fat, translates to 10% of the total fat we should consume on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. In and of itself, that DV may not seem useful, but in the overall picture of an entire day’s intake of nutrition it can help build a more accurate picture of the true nutrition being consumed.
I doubt that any one expects to read the labels on every single product purchased, but this information can be extremely useful in making intelligent (and healthful) food choices overall. You could take the time to track all of these values throughout the day or use one of the many mobile apps designed for this purpose. But the real usefulness comes in using it purely as a reference when choosing foods to fit your lifestyle. And when planning meals for yourself or for loved ones who may have specific nutritional needs, it is especially beneficial.
For me, I love the large print! No more “rubber band” back and forth arm movements to try to bring the print into focus. Now, if we could just get the FDA to do the same with the labels on OTC and prescription medicine bottles…… Someday?
“Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” FDA.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulations. Federal Drug Administration. 20 May 2016.
Solitto, Marlo. “Planning Seniors’ Meals: The Hidden Traps of Food Labels. “Agingcare.com” 2016.