How to Teach Clients to Read a Food Label

The food label, or Nutrition Facts Panel (as it’s formally called) is a type of blueprint or map. The purpose of the nutrition facts panel is to provide the consumer a snapshot of the nutrient value of a particular food. The information contained on the food label is intended to be a summary of key facts. Unfortunately, labels do not include a simplified means of evaluating a food’s overall quality. Until there’s a “red light, yellow light, green light” approach, we have to look a little closer to gain that insight. That said, there are significant changes coming by 2018 that will improve the label reading experience for consumers. This lesson will provide you with helpful hints and tricks to getting your clients comfortable with label reading.

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What a food label reveals

The Nutrition Facts Panel contains the following information; however, this will change by 2018.

  • Number of servings and the serving size
  • Calories per serving
  • Total Fat (usually includes a breakdown of Saturated, Trans, Mono & Polyunsaturated)
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total Carbohydrate (includes fiber and sugars)
  • Protein
  • Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, & Potassium
  • % daily values

 

That’s a lot of information to take in and evaluate. The good news is, clients don’t need to scrutinize every aspect of the label to make an informed and healthy decision. There are some key areas you can encourage clients to review before adding an item to their carts.

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Teaching Clients the Basics

Use the following focal points and accompanying Nutrition Facts Panel Worksheet to practice this skill under “teaching clients the basics”. Once clients have mastered this, take them to the grocery store and have them apply what they’ve learned with you there as a guide.

Step 1: Serving Sizes

Serving size is critical because it often differs from a client’s portion size. Use this area of the food label to help clients differentiate between the two.

Consider having a set of measuring cups, a digital scale, and measuring spoons available. By nature, humans cannot easily identify a 4 oz serving without some sort of tool to provide an accurate measure.

Step 2: Calories

The calories per serving give insight into how “energy dense” a food is. If a client is focusing on reducing overall caloric intake, consuming fewer calorie dense foods is wise. This is where you can quickly reference the percent of daily value column on the right. While food labels provide information based on 2,000 calorie diets, you can still help clients understand that a food product that contains 45% of a person’s daily value of fat may not be the best choice.

Note: 5% or less of the daily value is considered “low” while 20% or more of the daily value is considered “high”. The take home rule here is keep saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar and sodium in the “low” category. Keep the consumption of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the high category.

Step 3: Evaluate Macronutrients.

This will be very goal-dependent and client-specific. Is a client aiming to increase protein intake or reduce fat intake? Take a look at the ratio of protein, fat and carbs comparatively and see if a particular food meets the client’s overall nutrition goal.

Step 4: Ingredients – Identify the worst offenders.

Ingredients are listed by weight and are listed in descending order. Here, you can help your clients identify products with trans fat, added sugars and processed grains. Help them focus on keywords such as, partially hydrogenated oils, evaporated cane juice, sugar, enriched bleached flour, etc. The ingredient list is also helpful for clients with specific allergies or food sensitivities. A quick skim of the ingredient list can help the client pick out “red flags” in the food.

Download the Nutrition Facts Panel Worksheet to guide you in helping your clients!

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About the Author:

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach & Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college educator, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 14 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves teaching her clients and students to find an equilibrium between all dimensions of wellness with focused skill development. Erin is a regular columnist for The Sheridan Press, LiveWell and ACE. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com