Food Labels

Label Reading (Jeff Novick RD)


Amount of Fat – Daily Requirement is only – ~ 3-5%  of total calories from Essential Fatty Acids

In America, the avg. is ~ 35% of total calories from fat!  THIS IS WAY TOO MUCH!

Recommended ranges

Low-fat camp – ~ 10% of total calories (Ornish, McDougall, Esselstyn)

High-fat camp > ~ 30% (AHA, AND, NHLBI, USDA)

 Jeff Novick’s Healthy Guideline for Fat – 20% or less for packaged products (This is between the low-fat and high fat camp numbers.)

 Watch Type of FAT

Check ingredient list and avoid:

Saturated animal fat (lard,  dairy( butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt, sour cream, whipped cream and ice cream) chicken , turkey, meat, fish, and eggs.

Saturated vegetable fat (coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter

Man-made fat – Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, margarine, shortening


Daily Requirements National Academy of Sciences

Our physiological need is ~ 250 mg per day

Just meeting our caloric requirements with fruits and vegetables  provides 500 mg. of sodium

The Avg. US intake is 3000-5000 mg!!

Recommended ranges (IOM) 2013

Upper Limit (UL) is  2300 mg per day for most healthy Americans ages 9 – 50

Upper Limit (UL) is 1500 mg per day for people age 51 and over, African Americans, people with Diabetes, Hypertension and Chronic Kidney Disease

90% of Americans exceed UL

 Try to eliminate the salt shaker because 1 teaspoon of salt has 2200 mg of sodium

1 teaspoon of sea salt is not much better.  It contains 2000 mg sodium

 Jeff Novick’s Healthy Guideline for Sodium = 1200 – 1500 mg per day

 Where’s the Salt

Home cooking 5%

While eating 5%

Naturally Occurring 12%

Processed and restaurant foods 77%

 Sodium Density

 When reading labels, look for a Sodium / Calorie ratio of 1:1 or less.

E.g. – if serving is 100 calories – no more than 100 mg sodium per serving

Near East Original Couscous = 220 Calories and only 5 mg Sodium per serving for an excellent Sodium/Calorie ratio of  0.02:1.

 Near East Couscous Tomato Lentil = 220 Calories and 670 mg Sodium for a lousy Sodium/Calorie ratio of  3:1!

Exception to the recommended 1:1 Sodium/Calorie ratio.

Condiments can have a Sodium/Calorie ratio of up to 5:1 because you shouldn’t be consuming too much at a sitting and it’s hard to find condiments that meet the guidelines.

 Read the Nutrition Facts on the Back of the Label!

Sugar – Setting Limits

Preferred source of fuel for the body:


Body also burns fat pretty regularly

Glucose is the primary fuel source for the brain (brain cannot burn fat)

Avg human brain burns 500 calories of glucose per day

 Sugar is NOT the problem per se – It’s the added sugar (sugar extracted from the whole food)

**Don’t worry about sugar when eaten as part of the whole plant food ( ie. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains)

There is NO dietary requirement for added concentrated refined sugars

 Examples of added sugar found in ingredient lists of foods are:

Sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, molasses, barley malt, fructose, corn syrup. Brown rice syrup, (Anything with the letters “ose” at the end, i.e. dextrose, maltose, etc…)

 A little bit of added sugar is OK

These sugars account for ~ 20% of caloric intake ~ 500 calories per day

~ 145 lbs per person per year!! (A lot is hidden in foods)

Sugar – Evaluating Products

Main concern is added sugars

1 Tablespoon of any sugar is ~ 50 calories

**Nutrition Facts label lists “Total” sugars only

**Not worried about “Total” sugars – ONLY added sugars

Only limit added sugars

Check Ingredient List

Listed in descending order by weight (If sugar is listed first, there is more sugar than anything else)

**Industry Trick**

Multiple sugars are used.  This allows each sugar to be listed towards the end of the ingredient list because, individually, each sugar doesn’t constitute a large % of the weight of the product.  However, collectively, as added sugar, they would be listed as 1st or 2nd ingredient.

  (ex. A food that lists Rolled Oats, honey and brown rice syrup as its first three ingredients may very well contain more sugar than rolled outs if honey and brown rice syrups were  counted as one sugar)

 **Another trick is removing water from sugar source**

Evaporated Cane Juice or Dehydrated Honey  – Weight is reduced, but calorie contribution does not change

 Sugar – Healthy Guideline

Avoid added sugars in the first 3-5 ingredients


Preferred source of fuel for the body

The problem is refined/processed carbohydrates

White flour, white rice, pasta and sugar account for > 90% of US  carbohydrate intake

 This is what everyone eats and then they blame fruit for their health problems!!

Processed carbohydrates are stripped of nutrients and become concentrated calories

Avg intake of unrefined (Whole) Grains is < 1 serving per day

Nutrition Facts

Lists total carbohydrates

Check the ingredient list

Must say the word “Whole

*”Rolled”, “Stone Ground” and “Cracked” represent whole grains


Wheat, white, durum, semolina, bleached, unbleached, artichoke and enriched flours

Fiber – look for > or equal to 3 grams per 100 calories


Never, Ever believe anything on the front of any product

Always check the Nutrition Facts Label

Calories from fat – less than or equal to 20% of total calories

Sodium – 1:1 or less Sodium/Calorie ratio

Check ingredient list

Avoid “Bad” fats

Limit added sugars

Make sure it’s Whole grain

 Evaluating Products

Look at total calories and calories from fat

Don’t look at total fat and breakdown of daily value –(confusing)

Evaluate Sodium to Calories ratio



130   Calories

130   Calories

Must  have 26 calories or less from fat to meet  guideline

(20%  or less of total calories)

41   (32%)

Must have 130 mg  or less of sodium to meet

370   mg (2.85:1)

This Cracker is a high fat, high sodium food.

  Don’t believe health claims on  front of the label!

 The front of the label will often state fat % by weight.  This is VERY  misleading!!

**All health guidelines ask you to limit fat as a percentage of total calories

Advertisers often fool folks by claiming “low fat %” by weight.

(eg. 2% milk is 2% fat by weight, but 34% of total calories from fat)

 **Industry Trick**

PAM – if serving size is less than ½ gram – can round down to zero

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray advertises no calories!

Mazola PURE – Naturally Fat-Free Olive Oil – ¼g serving size (It’s pure fat!)

 Although our % of calories from fat dropped from 35% to 33% between 1989 -1996,  Americans are eating slightly more fat

REASON – Eating more Calories

1989 – 1839 calories/day – 72 g of fat = 35%

1996 – 2005 calories – 74 g of fat = 33%

 Good Items

Kauli Hearty Thick Crisp Bread

Tabatchnick Low Sodium Split Pea Soup

Eden Rice and Beans

Walnut Acres – Low Sodium Fat-Free Tomato and Basil Sauce

Casa Visco Fat-Free Tomato Sauce


In Summary

Focus on eating unprocessed whole natural foods

Increase fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans

Eat lots of fresh/frozen produce (nothing added)

Limit packaged and processed foods

 If You Buy Packaged products:

Calories from fat should be less than or equal to 20% of total calories

(No more than 2.5 grams of fat per 100 calories)

Sodium/Calories ratio should be 1:1 or less

Always check ingredients

Avoid the bad fats (Trans, animal and tropical)

Limit added sugar

Look for whole grains

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