Navigating your way through aisles of foods with their mysterious nutrition labels can be tricky enough. With recent changes to the way nutrition labels are written, the confusion could run even deeper.
Which is part of what Mercy Health Foundation is hoping to address in their "Healthy Eating for You" classes.
Bridget Lackey, a Community Health Educator who teaches the classes says she looks to address three key issues that trip people up when it comes to eating healthier.
"We address what I think are the three main stumbling blocks, or important features of following a diet- eating more mindfully, how much do you eat, and what are you eating," Lackey said.
One of the most important aspects Lackey covers in her class- self-awareness.
"What's most important is you can't take what's good for everybody else," Lackey explained. "You have to think about what's important for your health. You know, are you struggling with weight, are you diabetic, do you have high blood pressure. You know, what's important for you to be watching."
"It's estimated that three-quarters of us look at the label, but then what are you seeing on the label," she said.
Common ingredients and nutrients in foods can play a big role in those decisions, which is just one reason nutrition labels play such a vital role in healthy eating.
The changes to nutrition labels, which were mandated to be completed by the end of 2018, are progress, according to Lackey.
She explained, "The print is much larger, much more legible, much more realistic terms. When it gives the nutrient information on the bottom, it's based on four nutrients that are very important for us, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and potassium. But you're not getting an array of nutrients."
In addition, those labels now must include information on added sugars.
"Often those sugars are kind of stuck in there. And those are those high fructose corn syrups that are so easily observed and contain no nutrient content," Lackey says.
Lackey focuses on finding important nutrients and information, like sodium, carbohydrates, and protein.
But even with that, it can still get tricky. Lackey says that the nutrition labels, which are based on a 2,000 calorie daily intake, are a little bit skewed.
"The 2,000 calories that it's based on, that's kind of beefed up," she explains.
For a rough estimate, Lackey says take the weight you want to be and multiply it by ten- then you'll get an idea of about how many calories to take in per day.
Another sticking point for Lackey- pay attention to what a "serving size" is on the label. She points out that some "single serving" snacks are labeled as having multiple serving in them in order to make calories look less impactful.
However, the newer labels require manufacturers to use more realistic serving sizes, keeping in line with what a person is actually likely to consume in one sitting.
"The old benchmark used to be for ice cream half a cup. What adult eats half a cup of ice, not," she said laughingly.
And when it comes to package labeling, Lackey draws attention to misleading labels that claim to be "high in fiber", "all natural" and other so-called buzzwords.
"Manufacturers are keying into these words, God bless them, we have to be wise consumers and think about is this actually natural," she says.
For those who attended a recent class in Boardman, they say they're walking away with information that's changed the way they'll think about their food and the nutrition labels.
"I'm gonna start reading them; I just glanced at them before. But I'm going to really read them now," said George Hurtuk.
The Mercy Health Foundation has already scheduled several more sessions, in both Boardman and Howland. Classes are held about once a month in both Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
To register, call 330-480-3070.
The Foundation is also offering a new class called Healthier at Home, a free workshop sponsored by Mercy Health Foundation Mahoning Valley, provides solid advice for caring for one’s self, preventing illness and injury, and determining when to seek medical care.
Participants also receive a book, “Your Complete Guide to Symptoms, Solutions & Self Care,” which provides step-by-step instructions for addressing more than 200 common health issues.