Is that right? Nutrition Facts are enough?
Whether you're trying to lose 10 pounds (as I am) or just trying to feed yourself and your family better, checking Nutrition Facts panels on packaged foods is an important way to keep tabs on what you're about eat -- or to make an informed decision not to eat it.
Is that right? Reading the Nutrition Facts panel is enough to know if something is good for me or not?
The Nutrition Facts panel (NFP) and the ingredient list go hand in hand to provide us with information to make a smart, healthy choice. By looking only at the NFP, you may be missing out on crucial information. It provides us with only 10 to 20 data points (such as calories, fat, vitamin A and iron).
But nutrition is much more complex. A carrot, for example, contains hundreds of nutrients. The Nutrition Facts panel is only a small peephole to a much larger portrait of biological and chemical interactions that take place when food enters our body. Since most shoppers are not scientists, a much longer list of nutrient values wouldn't help us either. Nor is there room on product packages to list hundreds of micronutrients.
The ingredient list, though, can provide explicit and implicit assurances as to the product we're about to place in your shopping cart. If it is a short and easily understandable list of ingredients, chances are the product is healthier. If there are no controversial food colorings, sweeteners, or preservatives, chances are the product is healthier.
Let's explain through two examples.
Here's the nutrition information for Yoplait's light strawberry yogurt. Only 100 calories. 15 percent and 25 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin A and calcium, respectively. Scanning the product title and NFP paints a very rosy picture: Yogurt: check. Strawberries: check....Healthy: check.
But let's take a look at the ingredient list:
Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Strawberries, Modified Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate Added to Maintain Freshness, Natural Flavor, Red 40, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.
What do we learn? More sugar than fruit. The vitamin A and calcium are tacked on to the product, not a natural part of it. Artificial coloring is added. Artificial sweetener added. Flavoring added. Other preservatives are added. What was implied to be a healthy natural food suddenly doesn't seem quite so.
Here's another great example -- a leading breakfast cereal. It contains 3 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar and 0 trans-fats and boasts 9 vitamins and minerals. All in 100 calories per serving. Kids love it, and the front package boasts "natural fruit flavors."
But taking a look at the ingredient list reveals so much more.
Sugar, Corn Flour, Wheat Flour, Whole Oat Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (One or More of: Coconut, Cottonseed, and Soybean) (Less than 0.5 g Trans Fat Per Serving), Salt, Sodium Ascorbate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Reduced Iron, Natural Orange, Lemon, Cherry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Lime, and Other Natural Flavors, Red No. 40, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 6, Zinc Oxide, Niacinamide, Turmeric Color, Blue No. 1, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Vitamin A Palmitate, Annatto Color, BHT (Preservative), Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12.
Sugar is the first ingredient! Ingredient number five -- partially hydrogenated vegetable oil -- means that trans-fat is present here, despite its being labeled as zero in the NFP. This is due to a loophole in FDA regulations that allows the rounding down to zero of low nutrient values. But at the same time, health organizations recommend we consume NO trans-fat at all, not even small amounts.
Further inspection of the ingredient list reveals no real fruit content. Only "Natural flavors," which basically means some lab in New Jersey captured the essence of cherry in a test tube and sold it to the cereal manufacturer. Next up: a rainbow of artificial colors -- Red 40, Blue 2 and Yellow 6 -- adorn the ingredient list. This, just before the inventory of added vitamins and minerals. While fortification in and of itself is not bad, dietitians will tell you that it's best to get your vitamins from natural sources such as real fruit. (If you haven't guessed which breakfast cereal we're talking about, it's Froot Loops.)
To summarize, the Nutrition Facts panel is a quantitative look at a small number of important nutritional parameters. The ingredient list is a more qualitative overview of what we're putting into our body. Using one without the other makes it difficult to come to optimal decisions.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
April 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger , Is That Right? , Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity
Save & Share: Previous: Me ... as I'm meant to be?
Next: Sorry, ladies: Viagra for women still a fantasy
Posted by: RedBird27 | April 16, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: tootsie11 | April 16, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tootsie11 | April 16, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ralphinjersey | April 16, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: oldguy2 | April 16, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: EAS1 | April 16, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dottie_b | April 17, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: faecloudy | April 17, 2010 3:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: anniesang | April 17, 2010 5:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: The-Historian | April 17, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: doctorkim1 | April 20, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.