Understand Food Labels And Identify Diet Killers

Understanding Confusing Food Labels

Government-mandated, nutrition labels can tell us a lot about the food we are about to eat but do you completely understand it? Check out these MUST KNOW tips from the doctor!

Why are food labels so confusing?

Food labels are a government mandate to provide consumers with information to make informed choices regarding their food.

That being said, the average consumer has very little education deciphering the “mumbo jumbo”.

They are updated periodically and have been an area of concern among nutrition professionals, regarding what nutrition information is available and the manipulation of that information.

Serving Size

how to read food labelsThe serving size is located near the top of the label. It contains the recommended servings and the total number of servings per container. Be sure to look at this; oftentimes, the serving sizes are made intentionally small to make the product appear healthier than it actually is. How many people eat half a bag of chips or half a candy bar? Take a look at some labels and you will see. It’s pretty deceptive and all legal!


Calories are another item listed on food labels, close to the top. Remember that this number is calories per serving, not calories for the whole package. Remember that serving size can be manipulated, so it is imperative that you read this and do the math to get accurate numbers.

Included in the calorie section are calories from fat. This is an outdated calculation added to the food labels when it was thought that a high-fat diet was responsible for obesity; current research is pointing to sugar, rather than fat as a major contributor.


According to the USDA, the nutrient section of the food label is broken down to “limit these” and “get enough of these” subsections. Total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium are listed as well as the percentage of the daily value. Dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron are required to be on the labels. In my opinion, the selections for both are outdated and need a complete overhaul.

Research has proven that total fat is not indicative of poor health and, in fact, the opposite is true. What we know now is the fat-free craze brought in foods that traded fat for sugar, increasing the risk for obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, and on and on… Eating adequate amounts of fat is beneficial for your health.

Saturated fat was traditionally believed to be a source of heart disease. Recent research has shown that this may not be the case. In fact, coconut oil, saturated fat have been linked with increasing metabolism and fat loss. Trans fat is still known to be a carcinogen, cancer-causing, and artery-clogging. They are man-made and rarely occur in nature.

In the past, dietary cholesterol was thought to elevate total cholesterol. This has been disproven multiple times, but still remains on the label. Excessive sodium is still regarded as negative, however, recent research shows that low sodium intake is also associated with decreased longevity.

Other Nutrients

Dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron were chosen as items to be labeled because it was believed that the American population was deficient. Dietary fiber remains true; however, vitamin A deficiency does not occur in the general population. It is mainly found in the malnourished, elderly, and chronically sick.

Protein is also listed but has no percent daily value. The United States government does not believe that high protein intake is a public health concern, however many health experts, including myself, disagree.

Total Carbohydrate is noted with a percent daily value. This includes dietary fiber and sugar. Currently, there is no differentiation between naturally occurring and added sugar.

Vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy and has not been prevalent in recent years. Iron deficiency is more prevalent, but many Americans indulge in iron-containing foods, such as red meat. Calcium was put on the label as a public health measure as it was though a deficiency caused osteoporosis. This is helpful, but should not be the sole treatment for is the prevention of osteoporosis.

The percent daily values are based on a two thousand calorie diet, which is based on RDA’s. The RDA’s are general guidelines that are based on a 150-pound male. How many males do you know that are 150 pounds? These also do not take into consideration females at all. These are outdated and agreeable harmful to the American public.

The footnote on the label describes what is recommended by the government as healthy. These numbers include total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, and dietary fiber. These do not have to appear only on every label if size does not allow them.

Good News…Well, sort of

Recently, the United States government decided that a food label update was necessary. Much of the information is the same; however, there are some small changes that are worth mentioning. The serving size is printed in larger font, which makes it easier for the consumer to see, however, food manufactures will still be allowed to manipulate serving-sized to make their product seem healthier than they actually are. Calories are in bolder type. This is helpful, but weight management is not about the calories, it is more about where they came from.

The percent daily value has been updated; however, they still mislead the customer, as many of us require more than two thousand calories. Nutrients required have been changed; vitamin D has been added, along with potassium.  Calcium and iron are still present. The most glaring change it that total added sugar was included. This is of great benefit to the consumer since added sugar is believed to be the source of many health conditions.


Food labels can be misleading and deceptive…

However, with the new changes and a little education, you can get through the misinformation. Stay tuned for the next article in the series discussing ingredient labels and what to watch out for!

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