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How can I use the food label to reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol in my diet?
Some of the label information, such as that about fat--particularly saturated fat--and cholesterol, will be of special interest to people concerned about high blood cholesterol and heart disease.

High intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol are linked to high blood cholesterol, which in turn is linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is the most common form of heart disease and is caused by narrowing of the arteries that feed the heart. (See "Lowering Cholesterol" in the March 1994 FDA Consumer and "A Consumer's Guide to Fats" in the May 1994 FDA Consumer.)

For the general population, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that fat intake be limited to no more than 30 percent of the day's total calorie intake. Saturated fat intake should be limited to no more than 10 percent of the day's calories. The Daily Values used in food labeling follow these same guidelines. (See "'Daily Values' Encourage Healthy Diet" in the May 1993 FDA Consumer.)

Thus, people eating 2,000 calories a day should limit their daily fat intake to no more than 65 grams (g). (30 percent times 2,000 calories = 600 calories divided by 9 calories/gram of fat = 65 g.) They should limit saturated fat intake to no more than 20 g a day. (10 percent times 2,000 calories = 200 calories divided by 9 calories/gram of fat = 20 g.)

The 2,000-calorie level is the basis on which %Daily Values on the label are calculated. This level was chosen partly because it is a "user-friendly" number that allows for easy adjustments in Daily Value numbers, if consumers want to figure them to their own diet and calorie intakes.

The Daily Value for cholesterol is 300 milligrams (mg). It remains the same whatever the person's calorie intake. FDA and USDA chose this level because it corresponds to the recommendations of other health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Cholesterol Education Program of the National Institutes of Health.

People with severe high blood cholesterol levels or heart disease may need to limit their total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol intakes even further. Camille Brewer, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in FDA's Office of Food Labeling, advises people with specific health problems that require a low fat, low cholesterol diet to see a physician, registered dietitian, or nutritionist first. These professionals can help tailor a diet to a person's specific health needs.

The place to look for whether a food is relatively high or low in a nutrient is the %Daily Value column on the Nutrition Facts panel, usually on the side or back of the food package. For people concerned about high blood cholesterol and heart disease, the %Daily Values for fat (especially saturated fat), cholesterol, and fiber are important.

If, for individual foods, the %Daily Value is 5 or less, the food is generally considered low in that nutrient. The more foods chosen that have a %Daily Value of 5 or less for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, the easier it is to eat a healthier daily diet. Foods with 10 percent or more of the Daily Value for fiber are considered good sources of that dietary component.

The overall goal should be to select foods that together do not exceed 100% of the Daily Value for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, but that will meet or exceed 100% for other nutrients (like calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C).

The serving size information on the Nutrition Facts panel also is important. It tells the amount of food, stated in both common household and metric measures, to which all other numbers apply.

Unlike before, serving sizes now are more uniform among similar products and reflect the amounts people actually eat. For example, the reference amount for a serving of snack crackers is 30 g. So, the serving size for soda crackers is 10, while the serving size for Goldfish crackers is 55, because those amounts are the ones that come closest to weighing 30 g.

The uniform serving sizes make it easy to compare the nutritional qualities of related foods.

On some food packages, short label statements describing the food's nutritional benefits may appear. Often, they will be on the front label, where shoppers can readily see them.

These statements, like "low in saturated fat" and "no cholesterol," are called nutrient content claims. They are used to highlight foods with desirable levels of nutrients.

Other statements are health claims. FDA approved nine of them, two of which relate to heart disease. These two can state that:

  • A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

  • A diet high in fruits, vegetables and grain products that contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

These health claims also must state that the risk of coronary heart disease depends on many factors.

Both types of claims signal that the food contains desirable levels of the stated nutrients.

The article above is reprinted from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.

Lower-Your-Cholesterol.net is not dispensing medical advice. Questions about your own cholesterol levels should be addressed to your physician.

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