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Understanding food labels |

Health And Family

Understanding food labels

MOMMY TALK - MOMMY TALK By Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan -
As parents, we must get accustomed to reading food labels because they will aid us in planning for a healthy diet for our family. Food labels help us understand the amount of nutrients present in the food that we buy.

AC Nielsen conducted the Online Consumer Opinion Survey in 2005, where 21,261 respondents were polled from 38 countries from the Asia Pacific, North and Latin Americas, Africa, and Europe, and found that half of the consumers worldwide only partially understand the nutritional labels on food packaging.

The survey indicates that North American consumers are the most label savvy globally, with 64 percent of respondents saying they "mostly" understand the nutritional information on food packaging.  Latin Americans came in second with 52 percent, 43 percent for the Europeans and, finally, only 34 percent of Asia Pacific consumers had an idea about food labels.

The survey shows that the most important influencing factor in the way the consumer interprets and views the nutrition value of food labeling is the consumer’s deeply rooted cultural and social relationship to food.  For example, Italians basically check for preservatives and coloring, which is the same for all southern European countries.  What it means is that for them, anything artificial is bad and they believe that natural is good.

It is interesting to note that based on the survey’s findings, consumers continue to demand more information on nutritional content from manufacturers even though they have little real understanding about what it truly means.

The nutritional facts found at the back of food labels provide:

• The serving size of the food below the nutrition facts title. This tells you how much of the food you are actually going to eat.

• Percentage of daily values to give you an idea if the food has a little or a lot of a nutrient.

• The amount of calories in one serving of the product. The label lists total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium because people eat too much of these.

• Fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron contents because people do not eat enough of these every day. Ideally, we should try to eat at least 100 percent of the daily value of each of these every day.

• Fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, total carbohydrate, fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Other nutrients may also be listed if the company would like to list them.

One thing I personally think should really be in bold letters is the expiration date of the product to prevent food poisoning. 

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute has these reminders to consumers:

• A product has to meet certain standards before it can put a nutrition or health claim on its label. For example, a low-calorie product must mean that it has only 40 kilocalories or less per serving. If a product claims that it is rich in or a good source of a certain nutrient, it has to contain at least 20 percent of the recommended intake of that nutrient of a reference person.

• A product that is fortified, enriched or modified means that certain nutrients were added to the food.  They are labeled according to the nutrients that were added or modified in the product.

Examples of nutrition claims of products are: rich in vitamin A and C, with beta-carotene, high calcium, low sodium, non-fat, sugar-free, high fiber, low calorie, among others.

Examples of nutrition support claims include: "protects your heart," "helps prevent osteoporosis," "helps prevent certain cancers," etc.

Nutrition and health claims found in the food label have to be approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs before manufacturers can put claims on their products.

The Sangkap Pinoy Seal means that the food product is fortified with vitamin A, iron, and iodine either singly, in combination or all of the three nutrients. It means that at least 1/3 of the recommended nutrient intakes for vitamin A, iron, and iodine was satisfied by the food product.

No single food can provide all the nutrients required in the proper amount.

In line with this desire to notify you regarding what’s inside your food, here’s a truly informative letter from a reader on reduced fat milk versus whole milk and healthy cholesterol: 

Dear Maricel,

Congratulations for the nice article on kiddie snacks. I have a five-year-old son exposed to a lot of unhealthy food. From the very start, I emphasized to him that trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil, margarine, and vegetable shortening), too much salt (more than 800 mg. a day), and high fructose corn syrup (affects collagen production if copper is deficient) are not good for the body. Parents who indulge their kids with the above three are slowly and unknowingly killing them. Initially, I allowed my son to taste a few pieces and then trained him to put in the rubbish the remaining 95 percent.

I would like to comment on cow’s milk. "Health authorities" prefer reduced fat milk over whole milk because it has less "unhealthy saturated fat." The saturated fat (15 grams) in three cups whole milk (technically 3.2 percent) is the same as in five cups two percent milk. I am concerned with the cholesterol content. Don’t get me wrong,
cholesterol is very important for infants and growing children. They need it throughout their growing years to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system. What the "health authorities" are not telling us is this:  The cholesterol in reduced fat milk,  skim milk,  powdered milk, and even whey powder is oxidized cholesterol! It is not oxidized in whole milk. Oxidized cholesterol initiates the process of heart disease. It contributes to the buildup of arterial plaques leading to atherosclerosis. Pure unoxidized cholesterol is healthy:  It serves as a patch when arteries develop irritations or tears. It acts as precursor to stress hormones, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, vitamin D, and bile salts. Recent research shows that it acts as an antioxidant. The US ADA says 300 mg. should come from the diet. One egg yolk — or about 20 shrimps with head (size of your small finger) — has about 200 mg. of pure cholesterol.


Angel S. Respicio, Jr., MD

Honolulu, Hawaii 
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