In my campaign to spread the word about the dangers of salt, I am finding many who share my beliefs and my concerns. Jackie Dahlberg MS, RD, LD is my first guest blogger on the topic.
At Springfield Regional Medical Center, we are fortunate to have Jackie on our team. She is a registered dietician with a Masters Degree from University of Dayton in Exercise Science and a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Ohio University. Jackie coaches our patients to get on the right track of eating healthy using her knowledge and training in medical science with personal touch and enthusiasm.
In this article, she presents her personal experience and perspective in dealing with shopping for the right food.
Don’t Judge a Book – or Food – By Its Cover
When walking through the grocery store aisle, I am always amazed at the number and variety of products available for sale. Even as a dietitian it is overwhelming to see how many choices there are. How is anyone looking for something truly healthy supposed to
know what to buy?
The FDA oversees the claims a product manufacturer can put on package labeling pertaining to reducing risk of a disease or health-related condition, based on the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (1990). Terms such as “reduced,” “low,” and “lite,” among others, are terms that, by regulation, are to be used consistently for all types of food products” in order for them to be “meaningful” to consumers. However, similar to many other regulations in the food industry, these FDA guidelines are flimsy and loosely defined, leaving consumers guessing at which product is best for their health.
Enter the Nutrition Facts Label. There is no need to rely on claims made by a manufacturer because the label provides the exact nutrition content of the food at hand. All products are equipped with this handy tool that gives some insight into the true health of a product, but it requires that a consumer actually pick a product off the shelf and flip it over. Then, if this happens, the poor consumer tries to decipher the print in front of them. Almost as if reading a foreign language, it is difficult to determine which of the categories or numbers to zero in on in order to determine if the numbers presented are acceptable for their particular health issues. I’ve seen many people’s eyes dance down the side of a package, not really knowing where to rest, and in exasperation, give up and throw their selection in the cart. This is especially true when trying to determine just how much sodium is too much.
The time that consumer has spent evaluating that one product often makes them feel like they need to make up for lost time, so the rest of grocery trip is spent throwing the same old items in the cart. They don’t really know if they are making “good” or “bad” choices, just that the package fronts deem their selections appropriately “reduced” in many of the aforementioned unhealthy nutrients. As a result, uneducated and unaware, most consumers go about their daily routines assuming they are generally healthy, but not really understanding much beyond the pictures on the front of the label, and not really understanding what the sodium they are eating is really doing to their bodies.
First, consumers must understand that the front of the package is voluntary commentary designed to increase sales of an item. The nutrition facts label contains scientifically analyzed food facts that, if analyzed correctly, can provide all the information needed to make an educated, healthy choice. Second, consumers must understand that the nutrition facts label is based on the serving size. For example, if the product contains 500 mg of sodium per serving but two servings are eaten, one must double the sodium content for a total of 1,000 mg. Third, consumers must learn some basic numbers. For most Americans the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. The % on the label is based on a daily total of 2300 mg/day. If one eats 100% of the daily value, they have exceeded the AHA recommendation.
Simple math and taking a few extra minutes at the store could potentially mean the difference between improving overall heart health or traveling down the same road as many consumers who just don’t take the time, or the initiative, to manage health concerns and as a result experience a continuing decline in their health. Until manufacturers begin to reduce the sodium content of foods, consumers will have to look beyond empty claims on front of package labeling. If consumers purchase lower sodium items and continue to push for more choices in this arena, manufacturers will have to comply. The scientific community has made abundantly clear the harm that can be caused from consuming too much sodium, and consumers should use their purchasing power to help food manufacturers understand this as well.
Jackie Dahlberg MS, RD, LD is a licensed and registered dietitian. She has worked as a clinical dietitian at Springfield Regional Medical Center since 2005, and as a community/corporate wellness dietitian with Community Mercy Health Partners, Excel Sports Medicine, as well as Wittenberg University, and many other community agencies and area schools and sports programs.
Jackie graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics. She completed a dietetic internship with Mt. Carmel Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio.She has also earned a Master of Science degree in Exercise Science from the University of Dayton. Jackie holds a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and is also a Certified Personal Trainer. She lives in Springfield with her husband and 11-month-old son.