Mind and Body

Shoppers Who Read Food Labels Are Slimmer

If you read food labels while you shop for groceries, you may have taken an important step toward maintainging a healthy weight. A new study found that people - especially women - who check food labels at the supermarket are thinner than people who don't.

Photo of woman reading a food label

Researchers looked at data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, an ongoing program that collects information on a range of health topics through personal interviews. One survey area focuses on nutrition label information - whether people read the labels, and if so, how often.

"First, we analyzed who read the nutritional label when purchasing foods, and then we moved on to the relationship with their weight," says study lead author Maria Loureiro, of the University of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain.

Nutrient details

Nutrition labels list how many calories are contained in a food portion, as well as amounts of sodium, fats, sugars, protein, dietary fiber, and important vitamins and minerals.

The study found big differences between the people who read food labels and those who did not. Smokers, the researchers noted, paid little attention to the nutritional information on foods.

People who live in cities were the most careful about reading food labels. People with high school and college educations also paid more attention to nutritional labels. Seventy-four percent of women took time to read the labels, compared with 58 percent of men.

People who read labels most often were white, urban women.

Lower body mass index

"On average, women who read the nutritional information have a body mass index of 1.48 points lower, whereas this difference is just 0.12 points in men," Loureiro says. "We know that this information can be used as a mechanism to prevent obesity."

Body mass index is a way of determining obesity and overweight based on a person's weight and height.

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Agricultural Economics.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

FDA - How to understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label

FDA - The Food Label and You Video

Health.gov - Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

November 2012

Sizing Up the Package

To assess the nutritional value of a food, start by scanning the package. Check for claims such as "reduced calorie," "low salt," or "fat-free." But don't limit your choices to such foods and don't focus on any single nutrient, or you'll restrict your diet unnecessarily.

Also look for "high fiber" on the label. Foods with this designation contain 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. Foods claiming to be an "excellent source of" a vitamin or mineral provide 20 percent or more of the Daily Value (DV) of that nutrient.

Then check the serving size - serving sizes have been redefined to more accurately represent the amounts of food an adult normally would eat.

If you eat more or less than the serving size given on the box, you'll need to refigure the calories, fat, and other nutrients. For example, if one granola bar has 180 calories and 5 grams of fat, and you eat two bars, you have consumed double the serving amount, or 360 calories and 10 grams of fat.

Next, look at the figures given under the "% Daily Value." This nutrition tool lets you figure out whether a food provides a lot or a little of a particular nutrient. The "% Daily Value" on all food labels is based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. You can get 100 percent of the DV for fiber by consuming a serving of beans that provides 55 percent of the DV, a serving of prunes that provides 20 percent, and a baked potato that provides 25 percent.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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