Understanding nutrition labels can lead to healthier eating

URBANA, Ill. -- The nutrition label on packaged foods provides a lot of helpful information, but consumers don't always understand what it means for them. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are using a tool they call "See it, Do it, Teach it" to help people learn how to interpret and calculate nutrition information on food labels and apply the knowledge to their own daily requirements.

"One of the goals of the project was to help particularly teenaged girls and menopausal women understand how they can get the daily requirement for calcium into their diet in order to help prevent osteoporosis," said Karen Chapman-Novakofski, associate professor and nutritionist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Chapman-Novakofski and registered dietician Lisa Tussing in the Illinois Division of Nutritional Sciences together developed an activity to help people have more confidence in understanding and being able to apply information on nutrition labels. Chapman-Novakofski said food labels can be thought of in two parts: what you should limit (total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and perhaps total carbohydrates) and what you should try to get enough of in your diet (vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.).

"Much more attention has been paid to what people should limit rather than the nutrients needed. The average consumer doesn't know, for instance, how much vitamin A 10% of the Daily Value is, or how much calcium 25% of the Daily Value is," she said.

The activity that was developed involves three learning components.

First, participants choose from an assortment of packaged foods and are taught how to read the nutrition label on it using the USDA's Guidance on How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Panel on Food Labels. Next, they do some simple math problems in order to learn how the information relates to their own daily calorie and nutrient inta

Contact: Debra Levey Larson, Agricultural Communications
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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