How to Read a Food Label

Don't be defeated by the semi-misleading verbiage on cans, jars, bottles, and boxes. Learn how to read a food label and you'll know what you're buying, mostly.

| March/April 1989

  • how to read food labels - store announcement cartoon
    Products that say "no sugar added" may mean no table sugar. They could still contain corn syrup.
    CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - rear of woman pushing shopping cart cartoon
    The range of claims and information on labels can be overwhelming at times.
    CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - bad fat cartoon
    The really bad fat is saturated fat and hydrogenated oil.
    CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - frozen fish cartoon
    According to the USDA, a product can be labeled fresh "as long as it remains clear to the purchaser that the product is not fresh."
    CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - fruity drink cartoon
    Shoppers who know how to read a food label also know the words "fruity," "buttery," or "chocolaty" means a food product contains no fruit, butter, or chocolate.
    lLLUSTRATION: CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - lite potato chips cartoon
    Don't assume "light" or "lite" means lower calorie. It can in fact mean "a lighter color."
    CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - map of states with label laws
    As of 1989 these 13 states had food labeling laws.
    DON OSBY
  • how to read food labels - fruits and veggies cartoon
    Consumers who believe food labeled "organic" has been raised without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or other related chemicals may or may not be getting what they paid for.
    CAROL PULITZER
  • how to read food labels - fortified foods quip
    A fortified food has been pumped full of nutrients it doesn't possess in its natural state.
    CAROL PULITZER

  • how to read food labels - store announcement cartoon
  • how to read food labels - rear of woman pushing shopping cart cartoon
  • how to read food labels - bad fat cartoon
  • how to read food labels - frozen fish cartoon
  • how to read food labels - fruity drink cartoon
  • how to read food labels - lite potato chips cartoon
  • how to read food labels - map of states with label laws
  • how to read food labels - fruits and veggies cartoon
  • how to read food labels - fortified foods quip

When you’re known as "the Ralph Naders of the food industry," people can get edgy about inviting you to dinner. Not long ago, a favorite aunt had us over and proudly served a loaf of "natural" bread she had bought especially for us. As it turned out, the loaf was made from chemically bleached flour colored to look like a dark whole grain, and included hydrogenated oil and artificial preservatives.

However, her mistake is quite understandable. In an age when dishwashing soap boasts real lemon juice and Jell-O contains artificial lemon flavor, it's no wonder that words like fresh, light, and natural don't men what our mothers always taught us.

Yet, a mass of information appears on the packages you buy, some of it federally mandated, some voluntarily supplied. One comic noted that food labels are getting so long he saw one that said, "Continued on next package." Learning how to read food labels can help ensure that you're buying what you really want.

A Label You Can Rely On

Unprocessed whole foods — apples, for example — don't need labeling. But when foods are fabricated, the government demands that the makers tell us what they've done. (Foods sold across state lines adhere to federal regulations; products manufactured and sold within one state are subject only to state laws.) Specifically, the following information must appear — in English, even if the product is imported — on the principal display panel (the part of the label most likely to be displayed) or on the information panel directly to its right:



1. The name of the product.
2. The variety, style, and packing medium in conjunction with the name — for example, "sliced peaches in heavy syrup." (If you're cutting back on sugar, you now know to move on.)
3. If a food resembles another but is not nutritionally equivalent (as defined by the FDA), the word imitation followed by the name of the food being simulated. If the food is nutritionally comparable, however, a fanciful name may be used — for example, Salad Mate for a line of cellulose-based, vitamin-and mineral-fortified, extruded "leafy greens."
4. For some foods, the percentage of a characterizing ingredient, or the announcement that a specific ingredient is or isn't there, or the need to add ingredients.
For example, if "Juicy Fruit Drink" in fact contains no juice and no fruit, its label has to say so. If you are expected to add meat to a boxed beef-stew mix, the manufacturer must point that out.
5. The total amount, liquid included, in the container, expressed by weight, measure, numerical count, or some combination of these. (Looked closely at those "one-pound" cans of coffee lately? Most now hold 13 ounces— for the same price.)
6. A list of ingredients.
7. The name and address of the manufacturer. If the street address is listed in the phone directory, only the city, state and zip code are required. This doesn't always make communication easy. (Points to companies who voluntarily list their complete addresses, double points for phone numbers, triple points for an 800 number.)

Our Sample Food Label Diagram pulls all this together for you.

Steph_1
6/12/2009 10:23:39 AM

Here's another resource for learning about reading food labels: http://www.fitnessforweightloss.com/how-to-read-a-food-label/







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