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Don’t be tricked by food labels

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Consumers beware. Advertisers and marketers work hard to convince the public one product is better than another. While shoppers may read “low fat,” “high in fiber,” or “low sodium” on the front of the packages, many do not take the time to read the nutrition label.

In a recent poll taken at Colorado State University- Pueblo, nearly 23 percent of students who ranked overall nutrition as their first priority while making food purchases seldom or never check a food label, and one-third of them said they don’t compare food labels of similar foods.

Stephanie Arellano, a health educator and the coordinator for the diabetes prevention program at CSU-Pueblo said many people may ignore it because they don’t understand it.

She said learning to read and understand food labels is the first thing she teaches in her diabetes prevention class because it is so important for people to understand what they are putting in their body.

Arellano said being aware of servings is the first part of reading the label. Each label states how big a serving is, as well as approximately how many servings are in the package.

While a bag of chips or a bottle of soda may not seem like a bad snack, many times there are multiple servings in the one package.

 A few examples are a can of tuna, a bag of microwave popcorn and a 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade. The popcorn and tuna are considered healthy snacks, with the tuna having the added bonus of having actual nutritional value, and a 20 ounce sports drink is not an uncommon source of hydration.

Tuna is a food product in a deceptive package, and while tuna may not fall into a “junk food” category, it is a good demonstration of the need to understand serving sizes in general – a small can of tuna is about two servings, not one.

A cup of Pop Weaver Light Butter Popcorn has 20 calories, 5 of which come from fat, compared to the regular butter flavor which has 25 calories and 15 from fat. While the calories don’t seem too bad the real kick comes after devouring a whole bag of popcorn alone.

 A whole bag is two and a half servings, or roughly five cups. The bag of light butter popcorn is 100 calories, with 25 coming from fat; the regular butter popcorn is 125 calories, with 75 from fat.

While the number of calories is low, the percent of fat and the rest of the nutrition label still need to be taken into account. Sodium, which is linked to high blood pressure ranges from 575mg to 875mg, depending on light or regular butter. That equals 25 to 50 percent of the maximum amount of sodium a person should have in a day.

Sports drinks are another product packaged in multiple servings. A 20 ounce Gatorade has two and a half servings in the bottle. Gatorade does have an additional column labeled – “per bottle,” on its bottle labels.

Arellano said portion control is a big part of maintaining a healthy weight, but don’t let the packaging be misleading.

In two weeks, the Today Online will explain what fat and calories are and why it matters.