Medicare Memo: Learn to Read Food LabelsPosted by Medicare Made Clear
Sugar-free! Lite! No trans fat!
With all the hype around health and food, it can be hard to know what’s really good for you. Enter the food label.
Food labels have been around since the early 1990s. Even so, a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Health & Diet Survey found that nearly half of us still don’t use them. That’s too bad, because food labels can help us make healthy choices.
Arguably the most important food label fact is the least noticed. “Serving Size” appears at the very top of the label. All of the nutrition information on the label is based on this serving size.
Let’s say the serving size is one cup. If you eat two cups, then you will get double the calories, fat and so on listed on the label. That’s simple enough. But how often are you really aware of the amount you’re eating? Even if you are conscious of portion sizes, it’s a good idea to measure your servings out once in awhile to keep yourself honest.
Below “Serving Size,” the label shows “Servings per Container.” As an experiment, multiply that number times the “Calories per Serving” for a bag of potato chips or a frozen pizza. Then think about how many chips or how much of that pizza you typically eat. Depending on your nutrition needs, you may find that you’re taking in the better part of a full day’s calories from that one food.
Pay attention to “Serving Size” on the label as well as the serving size on your plate.
Claims Can Confuse
“Sugar-free” is not calorie-free. “Fat-free” is not calorie-free. Neither “natural” nor “organic” necessarily mean “healthy.”
Food manufacturers often put claims on food packaging, and certain claims are regulated by the FDA. If you have high blood pressure, for example, you may want to limit salt (sodium) in your diet. You can look for foods labeled “low sodium” and be assured that they meet the FDA requirements for this claim.
But these claims can be misleading. One potential danger lies in focusing too much on any one claim, nutrient or bit of information. You may succeed in lowering your sodium intake, for example, but unwittingly increase your fat intake. Next thing you know, you’ve gained ten pounds and your blood pressure hasn’t changed!
What You Can Do
Food labels are a powerful tool to use when shopping and comparing foods. Here are some pointers for using them wisely.
Consider all the nutrition information on the label.
Pay attention to “Serving Size.”
Calculate the calories based on the amount you normally eat. This may be more than the serving size on the label.
Look at the percent Daily Value (%DV) for nutrients you want to get more or less of. The rule of thumb is 20% DV or more is “high” and 5% DV or less is “low.”
Look for foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Too much of these nutrients may increase your risk of heart disease.
Look for foods high in health-enhancing nutrients like fiber and calcium. Fiber may help lower your risk of heart disease. Calcium may help lower your risk of osteoporosis, which weakens the bones.
Shop. Compare. Decide. Food labels are your friends.
For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.
Medicare Made Clear Resource Center: Information and links for answers to your Medicare questions
Understanding Medicare: Information about the parts of Medicare and how they work together from MedicareMadeClear.com
Medicare & You 2012: The official U.S. government Medicare handbook at Medicare.gov
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