New Dietary Guidelines for 2010 Released - Changes that may affect you

By Cheryl Switzer

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for food safety, encouraging the adoption of healthy eating habits for all Americans and establishing labeling standards on food packaging so that busy consumers have the tools they need to make informed choices. In keeping with these goals, dietary guidelines are published every five years and packaging rules are updated as needed. The dietary guidelines for 2010 were released on January 31, 2011.

In Section 3 of these guidelines, titled Foods and Food Components to Reduce, you will find the following recommendations:

• Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
• Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
• Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
• Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
• Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
• Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
• If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

As you can see, some of these recommendations are quite specific. Much of this has to do with the way we now eat. Not many families sit down to a home cooked meal anymore and some have confused foods with food products so we need some help. Also some of the ingredients we encounter today – mostly in manufactured foods or fast foods – did not exist decades ago. Trans fat, which is mentioned in the above guidelines, was introduced to extend shelf life of manufactured foods, but after years of study, they have been found to be a very unhealthy choice for consumers. In response to this, the FDA requires trans fat to be listed separately from other fats on the nutrition label. Since the agency lacks the clout to enforce a ban on this fat, it uses the power of the label to help consumers identify it and avoid it.

Although the history of U.S. food safety laws is long - dating back to 1862 with the creation of the Department of Agriculture - it was not until 1990 that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) became the foundation for the nutrition labeling we find on our food packages today. The NLEA covers many of the prepared foods you find in your grocery stores including packaged breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc. In January 2012 you will also find labeling on meat and poultry. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish remains voluntary at present.

Product Packaging

Some of us have become very familiar with product labeling over the years as we try to watch our calories, sodium, and/or fats in an effort to control our diets, but it’s not easy at first to sort things out. It takes a bit of practice and you have to know what to look for.

First of all, you must find the nutritional grid somewhere on the package which may require your magnifying glass. And then there is the information itself. Serving size can vary greatly from product to product making straightforward comparisons difficult. The percentage of recommended amounts will not be applicable to you if you are on a special or restricted diet. And then there is the task of deciphering the meaning of key words used to market the product – typically displayed prominently on the front of the package - words such as “reduced”, “low”., “light” and “natural”. In some cases these words have very specific meanings. In other cases, they are of limited or no real value. Your job as a consumer is to know which is which.

Reducing Sodium

Although the body requires only 500 milligrams of sodium per day in order to function properly, many American diets deliver a whopping three thousand or more. If your doctor has not told you to limit your sodium per day to a finite number, then as a PH patient who is not in heart failure, the new target for you is 1500 mg/day. While the recommended daily allowance of dietary sodium remains at 2300 mg/day for healthy young people (and serves as the basis for percentages you will find on the standard nutrition grid), it is now recommended that those in middle-age and people with certain chronic health conditions (hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes and others) limit their salt intake to under 1500 mg/day.

What does 1500 mg of salt look like? Not much. One teaspoon of table salt contains about 2350 mg of sodium (6 grams). Kosher salt, which has bigger crystals, contains about half that amount. So if you are striving to keep your dietary salt to under 1500 mg/day, you don’t have much wiggle room.  The type of salt matters and the percentages used on nutrition grids won’t pertain to you at all.

Hidden Salt - Let’s Talk About Ketchup 

The Nutrition Grid shown here is from a bottle of  ketchup. What can it tell us? We chose ketchup because it is a hidden source of sodium, one of those foods we eat without factoring in the salt impact.
First, notice the grid has essentially 5 areas of interest to the consumer.

1. Serving Size Info
2. Calories:
    From Fat
3. Nutrients You May Wish To Limit:
4. Good Nutrients and Percentages
5. Footnote: Basis for Percentages Published Above

Grid Part 1 - Serving Size
You notice the serving size for ketchup is 1 TB. If you smother your French fries in ketchup, this may be a very unrealistic number for you. Estimate what you realistically will consume per meal.

Grid Part 2 – Calories and Fat
Ketchup is fairly low in calories at the recommended serving size and contains no fat.

Grid Part 3 – Fats and Sodium
The only significant thing on this label is the sodium. You’re going to get a whopping 210 mg of sodium in each 1 TB of ketchup. If you are honest with yourself and know you will at least have 3 TB of ketchup with your meal, you’re looking at 630 mg of sodium or a total 42 percent of your total daily allowance of 1500 mg! Ouch!
Serving size is always where you want to start. Consider for example, bread. The label will give per slice information, but if you’re using the bread for traditional sandwiches, you’ve got to double the numbers. And how about those chips? Can anyone limit themselves to 12 chips? If the label tells you 12 chips will deliver 150 mg of salt, which is approximately 7 percent of a healthy person’s daily target of 2500 mg, it really delivers 10 percent of your upper limit if it is 1500 mg. Then too, how many of us can limit ourselves to 12 chips? It’s pretty difficult.

Reducing Fats – Choosing the Right Fats

Below you will find a list of the fats you may encounter on a typical food label, a little bit about them and the new 2010 recommendation for limiting them

Unsaturated Fats – No limit
Come from plants and is not solid at room temperature. Olive oil is a good example of a high-quality unsaturated fat.

Saturated Fats – Limit to 10 percent of your calories
Come from animals (butter, meat, lard, dairy and certain plant oils (palm, coconut). Leaner meats and reduced fat dairy are recommended.

Trans Fat – Avoid if possible
Trans fat is not found in nature. It is a natural oil from plants that has been modified to extend shelf life in some foods such as crackers and baked goods. It is not good for you and should always be avoided. Many manufacturers no longer use trans fats, but you should never assume anything. Check the label for trans fats and if a product contains them, don’t buy that product.

Cholesterol – Limit to 300mg/day
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like, sterol that is produced mainly in the liver and has several very important functions including cell membrane formation, digestion of fats and creation of steroid hormones. Cholesterol in the foods we eat (dietary cholesterol) is only found in animal products - plants do not produce or contain cholesterol.

Our cholesterol levels are mainly determined by our genetics (about 85-95%) and to a lesser degree by our diets (about 5-15%). Saturated fat in our diet stimulates our liver to produce more cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol has much less effect on our blood cholesterol levels than saturated fat.

Avoiding saturated fat will help decrease your total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) more than avoiding dietary cholesterol.

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Food Label

Saturated Fat vs Cholesterol

Trans Fat in Your Food

Other Aids in Assessing a Product Key Words – Discerning the helpful from the hype

Below you will find some of the key words you will find on packaging to provide information about the product. There are a few things you need to know about them. Some of them have very specific meanings and others are not all that useful unless you investigate further.

Reduced vs. Low
Reduced: If a product is labeled “reduced sodium, fat or sugar” it means it contains 25 percent less sodium than the regular product produced by the same company. It is quite possible therefore for a “reduced” version of one brand of chicken broth for example, to contain more fat, salt or sugar than a regular can of chicken soup made by another manufacturer. Tricky, eh?

Low: On the other hand, the words “low (salt, sugar or fat)” means something very specific that relates to all brands. Low fat foods must have less than 3 gm total fat per serving and low sodium foods must contain less than 140 mg per serving.

Light and Lite
For a food to be labeled light, it must contain 1/3 fewer calories than the regular version of the same product. You cannot assume however that a “light” version has significantly fewer calories. Even a light (lite) version of a product may contain a lot of calories.

When a product claims to be natural it simply means it has nothing synthetic added to it. It does not mean the product is naturally healthy as it may still be high in fats, sugars, sodium and/or calories.

Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.

Source: FAQs

Made With…
This claim makes it appear the food has more of the specific ingredient than it really contains. For example, if the label says a food is made with organic ingredients, only 70 percent of the ingredients are required to be organic. If the label says it is USDA organic then it’s required to be 95 percent organic. If you want true organic foods, look for labeling that says it is 100 percent organic.

Whole Grains
If a label says the product contains whole grains, you’ll want to read the label. What you want to see is 100 percent whole grain. If the words whole grain is mentioned without the percentage, you might be buying something with very few whole grains.

What’s Next in Labeling?

The FDA has developed a new food label grid to be introduced throughout 2011.  Rather than trying to read through the small print food labeling information on the back or side of most packages, a small nutrition grid containing some of the key information will appear more prominently on the front of each package.  While this new grid will not provide a complete picture, it may help a busy shopper compare choices more easily.

     FDA Food Labeling Guidelines 

In The News

Read Comments (0)   •    Make a Comment

We would like your feedback. Please comment above about this article and your suggestions for future articles. We ask that all articles are relevant, that common decency prevail, and that any factual statements be verified for accuracy. If you are sending comments on a feature, please reference the title in the subject line. Our goal is to bring useful and interesting features to you in future months.

PHCentral is committed to the expression of diverse opinions from members of the PH Community.

We feel strongly that free and open discussion regarding PH will assist in the generation and the refinement of new and existing ideas. To that end, we provide the opportunity for anyone from the medical and patient communities to submit editorials, letters to the editor or short articles on a PH-related topic. We will be encouraging opposing points of view. Areas may include treatments, causes, advocacy, disability, etc.

Take the Current Poll
View Current Poll Results To Date
View the Poll Archives