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Vol 12|No3|February |2016

Questioning the label (and the price)

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)


Product labels and price tags can prove very helpful to shoppers who are conscious of health issues and cost, but students will soon learn that the information is not always clear and will require a careful and thoughtful reading. This article suggests that questioning such labels is a wonderful activity to strengthen students' critical thinking skills.

If you are reducing sodium consumption . . .

Some people need to be very careful about the amount of salt (sodium) they consume because it can contribute to high blood pressure. You might ask your students to role play the choices to be made by a consumer hoping to limit salt intake.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stresses the importance of reading The Nutrition Facts Label that lists the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of sodium in one serving of a food.

"The %DV for sodium is based on 100% of the recommended amount of sodium, which is less than 2400 milligrams (mg) per day."

The FDA warns that the serving size on labels may sometimes be smaller than what a real person might eat. In the case of the sauce can above, the serving size is stated as one half cup (126g). You might ask your students if they would be content with half a cup. If they would consume a full cup, then they must double the amount of sodium they would be eating. Since the can claims 560 mg of sodium per serving - 23% of the healthy Daily Value, a double serving would amount to 46% of the %DV!

Ask students to judge that 560 mg of sodium according to the FDA's guide below:

  • 5%DV (120 mg) or less of sodium per serving is low
  • 20%DV (480 mg) or more of sodium per serving is high

Ask your students to examine a few dozen nutrition labels from spaghetti sauces and compare their sodium content. Which sauce would be the healthiest for someone trying to reduce their sodium intake?

Truth in labels?

The FDA also suggests reading some of the product labels on the front of the cans or jars.

  • Salt/Sodium-Free → Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
  • Very Low Sodium → 35 mg of sodium or less per serving
  • Low Sodium → 140 mg of sodium or less per serving
  • Reduced Sodium → At least 25% less sodium than in the original product
  • Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted → At least 50% less sodium than the regular product
  • No-Salt-Added or Unsalted → No salt is added during processing, but not necessarily sodium-free. Check the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure!

Quoted from "Sodium in Your Diet: Using the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake."

Students might find it illuminating to collect soups or other foods claiming that they are reduced or lightly salted. Sometimes the original product is so heavily salted that the reduced can is still above 480 mg per serving, and many people will want to eat the whole can - two servings!


soup 2

Price per ounce

The labels announcing the price of a product such as ground pepper, curry or coffee can be a bit confusing. Ask students to compare the costs per ounce of a dozen different bottles, cans or packages of these three.


If they were buying curry powder from the store whose price labels
are shown below, which curry would be the least expensive?




The math is not difficult, but few shoppers take the time to look at the numbers. The packaging is far more eye-catching. It is obviously the hope of the companies selling these spices that packaging will sway the shopper to ignore price, paying an extra 50% per ounce for curry powder that has a fancy bottle. Is the flavor worth this extra cost?



The Great Report


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  • Awakens curiosity
  • Entertains, delights and illuminates

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