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What Should I Know About Food Labeling?

Not too long ago, we didn't even bother glancing at those tiny letters and slogan on our desired products. In the last 20 years or so things changed, we started noticing and observing – about the same time healthy eating trend kicked in.

There are few things you can find on the most of the packaging and probably the best known is Nutricion Facts. Actually, in the United States it wasn't until the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act that it became mandatory for most packaged foods to have the label.

Items that do not need to state these facts are foods sold in bulk, raw fruit, vegetables, seafood and smaller packages.

We often see food labeling as something reasonably modern, but it actually started in the United Kingdom in the 13th century, under the Assize of Bread law. This stopped bakers from adding ground beans and peas into bread dough.

While it's crucial to know exactly what's in your food, the labels can be pretty confusing. Food and nutrition labels around the world can include a lot of information, and not all of it is easy to decipher.

The following categories have to appear on all food labels

  • Serving Size and Servings Per Container
  • Calories
  • Calories from Fat
  • Total Fat (on many labels the different types of fat are broken down: Saturated fat is mainly found in fatty cuts of meat as well as in butter, whole milk, cheese and other high-fat dairy foods. This type of fat can raise your risk for heart disease. Trans fat has been shown to lower HDL ("good") cholesterol and increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol.)
  • Cholesterol (only animal products contain cholesterol)
  • Sodium
  • Total Carbohydrate
  • % Daily Value (how much of a nutrient, vitamin or mineral you should be getting every day. "Percent Daily Value" is based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.)
  • Protein
  • Vitamins and Minerals
  • Ingredients (in order from most to least and is very valuable)
  • Allergy Information (since 2006, all packaged foods that contain any of the eight most common food allergens - milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts - must state this info.)
  • Expiration date

There are 64 countries around the world which require labeling of products which contain GMOs. In the U.S., the FDA policy is to support voluntary rather than mandatory GMO labeling. According to the USDA, approximately 90 percent of all corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified.

Sell-by and use-by date labels are not federally regulated. They vary from state to state (and country to country), and represent suggestions by manufacturers as to when a food is at its peak rather than a guarantee of safety or quality.

The Food and Drug Administration in USA announced major changes to food labeling that could have a significant impact on what people eat and drink. Added sugars will be on labels for the first time. That means consumers will know how much sugar is added into a food product, as opposed to sugar that's naturally occurring in food like milk or fruit.

Michael Jacobson, executive director for Center for Science in the Public Interest, said this change likely will have "a very important long-term impact." Also, calories and serving size will be more prominent on labels.

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