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What nutrition labels really tell us about our food

A shopper makes their way through a grocery store in Miami, Florida.
A shopper makes their way through a grocery store in Miami, Florida.

Imagine you’re walking down the snack aisle in your grocery store and you pick up a box of Cheez-Its. Normally, you don’t pay attention to nutrition labels, but today you turn the box around.

You understand the calorie number in big bold letters, but beneath it, there are words like, “Polyunsaturated fat” and “Monounsaturated fat.” There is a list of percentages under daily value. You’ve been told to watch your sodium intake. Eleven percent of your daily value doesn’t sound high, but the 250 milligrams beside it does. Frazzled, you put the box of Cheez-Its down and move on. 

Many of us have likely felt confused by food labels before. But nutrition facts can offer important information about what we’re consuming. 

There are several efforts underway to make the labels on our food more clear for consumers.Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in California that would change the language around expiration dates from “sell by” or “enjoy by” to “use by” or “best if used by” to minimize confusion.  

And last month, the FDA said it would test out putting nutrition labels on the front of packages in hopes of making them more accessible. 

But how helpful will shifting the placement of an already confusing label be? We speak to the person leading this campaign at the FDA and two nutritionists about how to read nutrition labels.

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Haili Blassingame