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Set A Better Table: Read the Label
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 • Posted June 16, 2010

If you have been to the grocery store lately, the aisles likely resemble a jungle. Shelves are overflowing with a thicket of foods that claim "healthy this" and "reduced that." As consumers trying to become more health conscious, understanding nutrition claims on labels has become a daunting task. What do these claims mean and just how do we decipher them?

The Food and Drug Administration is the agency responsible for regulating the information on a nutrition label as well as claims allowed on food products. Two types of claims food labels typically boast are "nutrient content" and "health" claims.

Nutrient content claims highlight the key levels of nutrients, such as cholesterol, fat, sodium or fiber in a product. "Reduced," "free" or "good source of" are just a few basic terms used to describe nutrient content. For a complete list visit www.fda.gov and look under "Food" and then "Labeling and Nutrition." In earlier days, definitions of these terms were somewhat loose but now the guidelines for claims are stricter, so you can trust you are getting what the label says.

Health claims are used to describe the relationship between a food - or a nutrient the food contains - and a disease or health condition. Extensive up-to-date research must back these claims and all claims must be pre-approved by the FDA. Health claims cannot state that a food or nutrient will "prevent" or "cure" a disease or condition. Instead words like "may" or "might" help prevent must be used instead of "will prevent." Calcium and reduced risk of osteoporosis and sodium and reduced risk of high blood pressure are just a couple of health claims found on food labels. For a complete list, go to www.fda.gov.

Knowing what these nutrition claims on food labels mean is an important step in making healthier choices when you venture out to your local jungle, a.k.a. grocery store. So be sure to read the label to set a better table and boost the nutritional intake for you and your family.

Ashley Meek is a recent graduate of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas Dietetic Internship who completed a community nutrition rotation with Neva Cochran in June.

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