My commitment to giving my children fewer pre-packaged snacks this summer has gotten me thinking a lot about food labels and the impact they have on our food choices. I have done a better job of providing my children snacks that do not have a label on them at all – like fresh fruits and vegetables. But, it is hard to avoid foods in packages. For example, we are eating nuts that come packaged in a bag, cheese that I have cut into cubes from a large block, yogurt from a plastic container, and cereal from a box. All of these packages have labels and all of the labels can impact my food choices.
Some labels are pretty plain – basically telling me what is in the food I am buying. Like my block of mild cheddar cheese. Other labels are more complicated – using claims like light, sugar-free, lowfat, reduced sodium, and more. My container of yogurt has a couple of these claims. Still others are very complicated – using claims such as made with whole grains, healthy, or natural. A box of cereal may have some claims like these. Are these claims giving me information about the nutrition of the food, are they a marketing tactic to get me to buy the food, or is it a combination of both? I think it is a combination of both, and I know I want to make the best choices for my family.
For a starting point, we have some information about food package labeling and claims here on our website. If you want to know more about food label claims, here is an article that I found very helpful. For me, the bottom line is this – no matter what the food package looks like on the front, turn it over and read what is on the back or the side. Read the Nutrition Facts Panel and the ingredients list to find out what is in the food and inform your decision about whether or not you want to buy the food for yourself or your family.