Food labels: A good read

Are you a label reader? If you are, you’re in good company. A survey by the American Dietetic Association found that nearly 62 percent of grocery shoppers read the nutrition facts panel.

What are they looking for? The top five items shoppers are interested in are calories, total fat, calories from fat, and sugar and sodium levels, according to a recent report from the NPD Group’s Dieting Monitor.

The nutrients shoppers are trying to avoid? Number one is fat, followed by sugars, cholesterol, sodium and trans fats. The Dieting Monitor also identified the nutrients people are trying to maximize: whole grains, fiber, calcium, vitamin C and protein. Consumers are also seeking out foods with a short list of recognizable ingredients with minimal processing, according to the Natural Marketing Institute.

Mistakes parents make

Two terms on the front of a package could sabotage weight management efforts: “Low fat” and “organic.” Both are linked to overeating. The term “low fat” can lead people to infer that a food has fewer calories. And consumers even associate the term “organic” with low calories, according to a 2010 study in the journal “Judgment and Decision Making.” In the study, college students who read labels for organic Oreo cookies described them as having fewer calories than the conventional Oreos. They also thought the organic cookies could be eaten more often than the non-organic ones.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, a dietitian from New York, and author of “Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time,” points to three other common mistakes:

• Only checking calories without looking at the nutrient value: A 150-calorie pack of jelly beans does not compare to a 150-calorie yogurt. Yogurt is rich in calcium, protein and a medley of other vitamins and minerals, while jelly beans are nearly pure sugar.

• Not looking at the serving size: Remember to multiply every number on the package by the number of servings in each package.

• Being duped by the flashy front of the package: Don’t be fooled by a word like “natural.” Flip that box over to see what you’re really getting.

Getting kids started

Taub-Dix, a mother of three sons, says children can start to scan a label with your help as soon as they know what numbers look like and represent.

What foods are best to start with? Little ones can look at breakfast cereals and milk. For example, show milk’s calcium and protein levels. Older kids can critique energy bars and note how some are higher in sugar and/or fat with little fiber or protein value.

In addition to becoming nutrition smart, children who read food labels gain the benefit of improving their reading and math skills. Try this: If your kids love a breakfast cereal that’s high in sugar — say 13 grams — combine it with one that’s low in sugar — one gram. Together you can do the math and bring the sugar down to seven grams per serving. Q: Where do food companies come up with these portion sizes? A pizza clearly meant for one was actually labeled “two servings.”

A: Serving sizes were developed by the Food and Drug Administration based on portions consumers supposedly eat. There is a movement to make serving sizes more realistic as part of food labeling reform.

Pomegranate Pink Jade

Fresh pomegranate juice turns into a simple spritzer. You can mix the juices up to a day ahead (store it sealed in the refrigerator) but don’t add the sparkling water until just before serving.

Makes one serving


1/3 cup pomegranate juice (purchased or freshly squeezed)*

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sparkling water

Ice cubes

3 tablespoons vodka (optional, for adults only)

INSTRUCTIONS: In a large glass (pitcher for six servings), mix pomegranate juice and remaining ingredients; add ice cubes (make ice cubes with some whole pomegranate seeds in them for a festive touch).

*One medium pomegranate (about 9 ounces) yields 1/2 cup juice

NUTRITION FACTS: 70 calories, 18 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fat, cholesterol and fiber, 1 gram protein, 10 milligrams sodium, 40 percent DV vitamin C.

Adapted from

Christine M. Palumbo is a Naperville-based registered dietitian and mother of three. There’s nothing more exciting to her than curling up with a good food label and ingredient list. She can be reached at (630) 369-8495 or [email protected]