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What’s in a Food Label???

By Chris Breton, Assistant Director, To Life! 

Nutrition labels offer a wealth of information about the food we put in our grocery cart. The label information is designed to educate and assist the consumer in deciding what foods to purchase.  Some people read nutrition labels to seek information relating to a specific health matter…calories (weight loss), carbohydrates (diabetes) or sodium (high blood pressure). Others read the labels in an effort to “eat right” and live an overall healthy lifestyle. And many people don’t read the labels at all, which unfortunately, is the category I fell into until I recently attended a Label Reading Tour at Hannaford Supermarket with Registered Dietician, Patty Wukitsch.

On the tour, I learned that there have been several recent changes to the format of nutritional labels. The servings per container and the serving size (for the nutritional data) are now in larger, bold print. The calories per serving information is in much larger, bold print, which immediately draws your eye to that section of the label right from the start. The sugar content of the product separates out the “added sugar” content from the overall sugar content, and the information on vitamins A and C has been replaced with information on vitamin D and potassium, and includes the amounts of each in milligrams or micrograms.

Another thing I learned was that when considering products labeled “reduced fat”, “low fat” and “light”, it does not necessarily mean that the products with these “buzz words” are the more nutritious options, as many people would think. Often times a low-fat food can be higher in sugar content or in calories, and may not be the more nutritious choice you were hoping for. Reading the label will give you the information you need to make sure you are getting the healthiest option available.

Hannaford Supermarkets has a program designed to help the consumer take some of the guesswork out of making nutritious food choices. This program is called Guiding Stars. Guiding Stars is a nutritional food rating system used to identify more nutritious food options. Guiding Star tags can be found throughout the store on a variety of products to indicate that the product is a healthy choice. The ratings are done by the number of stars, and the more stars, the healthier the product. Hannaford Supermarkets throughout the Capital Region and surrounding counties, also have licensed dietitians who are available to answer any questions you may have about your specific dietary needs free of charge.

In the end, I came away from the tour feeling much more informed. I felt like I wanted to “be better”, or at least more informed about some of the food choices I make. Perhaps give more thought to creating healthier versions of the food I cook, and consider doing some nutritious ingredient substitutions, like using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. I also felt like I will more frequently notice the Guiding Stars tags, or perhaps their absence, when at the grocery store.  There are a lot of food options available to the consumer, but if you want to eat healthier, you really can take control of what you purchase and make good and informed decisions by taking a moment and reading the nutritional label of a product. I think I am going to give it a try!