Almost everyone would benefit from learning to read food labels, but they are especially important for parents of children with food allergies or who don't eat well, either because they are very picky or because they eat too many foods that aren't very nutritious.
It is fairly easy to get your children proper nutrition if they aren't picky eaters, but for children with a limited diet, it can be hard to get them enough calories, vitamins and minerals.
Calcium is one of the nutrients that picky eaters often don't get enough of, especially if they don't drink milk. By reading food labels, you can learn to find foods that are excellent sources of calcium, with at least 20% of the percent daily value for calcium. These foods will often say that they are "High in Calcium, "Rich in Calcium" or "Excellent Source of Calcium."
Just reading the packaging isn't enough though, because foods that say they are an "Excellent Source of Calcium" can have anywhere from 20%, 30% or as much as 35% Daily Value for calcium. Of course, if you are trying to get your child enough calcium, you want to pick foods that say 'Calcium 35%' on the Nutrition Facts section of the food label.
Comparing American Cheese brands is a good example of why reading the label is important. Although most people understand that cheese is a good source of calcium, the percent daily value for calcium in different brands can vary from only having 5% to 35% daily value for calcium.
The same is true for orange juice and bread. Again, compare labels to find the one that has the highest % daily value of calcium.
Fiber is another thing that most children do not get enough of. A high fiber diet is especially helpful for children with constipation or recurrent abdominal pain.
Most children should get enough fiber each day to equal 5 plus their age in years. So a 6 year old would need 11 grams of fiber each day (5 + 6 years).
Dietary Fiber is another nutrient that is listed in the Nutrition Facts section of a food label. By comparing foods, you can see that some foods have 0g of fiber (for example tuna fish and sugary cereals), while others have 6-8 g (beans and some vegetable soups).
For children who are overweight, reading the food label to find the number of servings in the container and the amount of calories per serving can help you determine how much your child should eat. Potato chips are a good example. Although one serving may only have 160 calories, many people are surprised that a single serving is only supposed to be 12 chips. If the bag has 12 servings per container and your child eats half the bag, then he gets almost a 1000 calories.
The Nutrition Facts of a food label also lists the amount of Vitamin C (which most kids get enough of since even if they don't drink milk, they likely do drink fruit juice with Vitamin C), iron, cholesterol, sodium and fat.
If your child has severe food allergies, reading food labels can be a matter of life or death, since many foods have 'hidden ingredients' that your child may be allergic to. For example, if your child has an egg allergy, in addition to looking for the word 'egg,' you want to look for the following ingredients, including globulin, eggnog, albumin, yolk, egg white, egg substitutes, mayonnaise, ovalbumin, livetin, ovomucin, ovomucoid, vitellin, and ovovitellin. It is important to remember that foods as varied as candy, granola bars, and pizza may have eggs in them, so you must read the label each time.
||To learn about the new food labels, just click on the topic you are interested in.
The new food labels are designed for children over 4 years of age and adults.
In general, you should choose foods that are low in fat, low in calories, low in cholesterol and high in fiber, except for children under two years of age, who should not have their fat intake restricted.