How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label

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As an ENT surgeon who only treats children, I have had the opportunity to have thousands of conversations on daily basis with parents and caretakers, and listen to them describe a multitude of ear, nose and throat problems. Over the past 15 years I have asked parents to describe their child’s eating and drinking habits. While I was shocked initially that most adults do not ever read a nutrition facts label, I have come to understand this is because there is no curriculum about nutrition and personal health taught in elementary, high school, college, nor is it part of our daily conversation.

In May of 2016, the FDA actually updated the nutrition facts label for packaged foods to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The key changes include emphasis on updated serving size, serving per container and added sugars in a package. Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales must switch to the new label by January 1, 2020; manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until January 1, 2021 to comply.

Whether you have or have not paid attention in the past to the nutrition facts labels before putting items in your shopping cart, I urge you to start learning what they mean. This is the single change to increasing your ability to make informed decisions with your purchasing power. What you buy, what you put in the house and what you put in the refrigerator affects the feeding environment at home, and the eating and drinking habits of you, your family and your children. 

The sugars and syrups added to food and beverages during processing or manufacturing are important to limit; these are distinct from naturally occurring sugars in fresh fruit and milk. Added sugar intake per day for children should be limited to 3 - 4 teaspoons for 4 - 8 year olds, and 5 - 8 teaspoons for 8 - 16 year olds. However, most American children have far more than this in one day and often just in one glass of juice or sugar sweetened beverages like soda!  

Download and print my one-page document: How To Read A Nutrition Facts Label (also shown below)Bring it to the store with you as you begin to familiarize yourself with what is in the foods you buy and eat. 

Chart describing what the items on a nutrition facts label mean

TIP: Read nutrition fact labels with your children during shopping trips and count the total grams of added sugars. Remember every 4 grams equal one teaspoon of added sugar. Teach yourself and your child just how much sugar they are eating and drinking. If it is an item that has added sugars and the amount of sugar listed on the panel is much higher than your child’s daily limit, then consider alternatives. 

Diet Well-Being

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