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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Bodies » How to Read Nutrition Labels and Ingredient Lists

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Author Topic: How to Read Nutrition Labels and Ingredient Lists
Gumdrop Girl
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I figure this'd be a good topic for discussion. Labels vary by region, and I have only American and Japanese labels to go on, so feel free to discuss your regions labels

Most labels will include the serving size, number of Calories per serving, and contents of: sugar, fat, sodium, protein and occasionaly other nutrients. Quantities are given in grams and in America they're given in percentages based on a 2000 Calorie diet.

It's important to pay attention to serving sizes. Certain number of servings of carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and proteins are recommended daily. So just because you should get 6 servings of starch doesn't mean you get to have 6 heaping piles of spaghetti. a serving might be only a few grams. Or how about that super fatty peanut butter? it says only 100 Calories per serving, but a serving is a tablespoon. Don't be fooled. Many people mistakenly eat large quantites of foods labeled "low-Calorie" without paying attention to serving size, and in the process they wind up consuming a lot of excess.

Now how about fats? They are listed in grams and percentages as well. In the States, saturdated fats are sublisted under fats. Saturated fats are worth noting because they're the ones that contribute to cardiovascular disease because they tend to harden if it's cool enough. Cholesterol is another fat. Cholesterol is *only* found in animal products, so while a jar of peanut butter may truthfully say "Cholesterol Free" it is still loaded with fat. Cholesterol is dangerous because it, too, can harden like saturdated fats, clogging blood vessels. But small amounts of both are necessary for survival.

Sugars. Sometimes they're lumped together as Carbohydrates. Other times, it's sugars and starches listed seprately. Sugars are improtant to diabetics who need to monitor their diets. Carbs are important because they are our primary source of fuel, but too much intake gets stashed as fat in our bodies.

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"Go that way really fast, and if anything gets in your way ... turn." Better off Dead starring a teenaged John Cusack.


Posts: 12677 | From: Los Angeles, CA ... somewhere off the 10 | Registered: Jul 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Gumdrop Girl
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Now about the ingredients lists...

Ingredients are listed by amount. The major components go first. In some places, percent quantities of each ingredient are listed. In the States, it's just a list.

When you read a list of ingredients, do you really know what you're looking at? Here are some things to look for:

Does it end with -ose? For example: glucose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, fructose. Then it's a sugar. Other sugars to recognize are corn syrup and maltodextrin.

Fats are easy to spot once you know you're looking at. Oils are pretty much listed as "oil." But they might be accompanied by words like "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated." Hydrogenation saturates fat, making them bad (see previous post) for you cardiovascular system. Other forms fats can appear as are: "mono-," "di-," and "triglycerides." The way a fat is set up, is a three carbon backbone with fatty acid chains linked up (think of a very stretched out "E"). The "mono-," "di-," and "tri-," denote how many fatty acid chains are attached to the carbon backbone. The more chains, the fattier the fat is. So if you think about this overall, a hydrogenated triglyceride is a very saturdated, and very unhealthy fat.

I suppose that's the important stuff for now. Got any questions about the identity of something in that box of cookies, bring it on

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"In God we trust. All others must pay cash..." faw-choon kookie say.


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Zanney
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I have both American and Australian labels, so I'll talk about the latter.

The nutrition panels on the packaging is the same as on the American ones (as described above), although some companies are starting to go a little further. Some add percentage weightings in their ingredient list (for example, the exact percentage of meat there is on a frozen pizza pie, the exact % of cheese etc). This isn't compulsory but I think some corporations are starting to recognise that people are interested in their health and what goes into their bodies, so many are now starting to use the % method as well.


Posts: 419 | From: Tivoli | Registered: Jun 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Zanney
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And it's also important if you are allergic to certain foods to read packaging VERY carefully. Some chocolate bars, for example, say "May contain peanuts", even though there are no nuts in the chocolate. This is because they are made in the same plant as other peanut products, and peanuts may wind up in the bar. Same with egg, wheat and dairy. Often these warnings are hidden at the end of ingredient lists, so it's important to read carefully.
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Orchid
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I have two questions I tend to wonder about when reading nurtition labels. Firstly, what exactly is meant by RDA, or rather, how strictly should that be followed? Can you balance out the RDA percentages throughout the week, or is it really supposed to be held to day by day? Some labels mention different things than others, leaving me wondering about how one could get their full RDA of things like copper, magnesium, and phosphorus which I see listed on labels only once in a great while and only in amounts of about 2%. How do they decide how much of these things you need, or if you even need them? My other curiosity is about BHT and BHA which are listed on so many products, and are preservatives, I believe. Aside from that classification, what exactly are they? Are they unnatural, or dangerous? I've heard alot about avoiding unnatural preservatives, and I wonder if those are what they're talking about. Thanks for your time.

-An avid reader of cereal boxes


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Gumdrop Girl
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the RDA is your recommended daily allowance. It's kind of an arbitrary number; it's what the FDA considers an average nutritional demand for everybody, but some people need more, some people need less. a middle aged woman who is relatively sedantary may only need 1200 Calories per day, whereas an Olympic athlete may need 6000 Calories per day.

Nutrient listings vary on labels. Your basic label has the things I listed before. But food that wants to show itself as "healthier" fare may sometimes list the other nutrients your body needs (minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, etc. or vitamins). Those tend to be listed in terms of percentages.

Preservatives like butyl hydroxyanisole (BHA and BHT) are organic compounds (I mean organic in the strict chemical sense -- they are carbon compounds) that have anti-oxidant properties. They tend to have special ring structures. Sodium benzoate is another common preservative that also has a similar ring structure.

Preservatives work because they are anti-oxidants. Oxidation is what makes food go stale. You may have heard of anti-oxidants as a cancer-fighting nutrient. Those are a little different. Those stop oxidation of your cells and genetic materials. Food preservatives do the same in your food, but don't necessarily have those effects in your body. Some consider preservatives to be harmful. A lot of foods will clearly denote themselves as "Preservative Free" because it is seen to be a good selling point.

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"In God we trust. All others must pay cash..." faw-choon kookie say.


Posts: 12677 | From: Los Angeles, CA ... somewhere off the 10 | Registered: Jul 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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