More Nutrition Label Improvements

Yesterday we wrote about the FDA’s plan to refresh nutrition labels and made several of our own suggestions. In parallel, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer watchdog organization, published its own set of recommendations. They’ve done a great job, including some very cool graphics. You can download their 2 page report here [PDF]. Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times also has a good summary.

Some of CSPI’s recommendations include:

1. Putting calorie and serving size information in larger type at the top of the label so it’s immediately clear how much you are eating. To that, we would add listing the entire calorie content of a package soa person doesn’t have to do the math.

2. Making the ingredient list easier to read by printing it in regular type instead of all capital letters. Use bullets to separate ingredients rather than allowing them to all run together. This is a good point – consumers have a hard time just reading what’s in the box, let alone trying to understand it.

3. Listing similar ingredients together and show the percentage by weight. For instance, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and grape juice concentrate are all forms of sugar and should be listed in parenthesis under the catchall heading “sugars.”

4. Using red labeling and the word “high” when a product has more than 20 percent of the daily recommendation for fats, sugars, sodium or cholesterol. This is a good idea, but we think focusing on sodium, sugar, and saturated fats should be enough. Not all fats are bad, and avocados, high in healthy fats, would be reprimanded in vain.

5. Displaying prominently the percentage of whole grains contained in a product – This is important because many times a bread or pasta will boast “multi-grain” or “whole-grain” when only a small percent of the wheat used is whole, and the rest is plain white flour, devoid of fiber and other nutrients.

What to do at the supermarket:

Until the FDA actually does something, we still have a while to go. In the meantime, shop around the perimeter of the supermarket, look for products with short ingredient lists,  and when in doubt, ask us.

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  • Sagan

    Wow, I love the idea of having the word “high” in there- that would really grab the consumer’s attention and put things into perspective if they don’t know how to read nutrition labels. And such a good idea for the ingredients list, too… I wish it would show percentages for every ingredient in the product. That would be so cool.

  • Eric

    Generally-speaking, ingredient lists of 5 or fewer items yield the healthiest pre-packaged foods.

    When shopping, count the number of ingredients. If more than five, decide whether it’s more expensive to buy that product or make it from scratch at home! Combining grilled vegetables and plain couscous or rice is more healthful than dried vegetables in a pre-packaged couscous or rice box!

    The nutrition labels could use some clarification, and I believe the public is being put at a disservice by inscribing “product not labeled for individual retail sale” on some forms of individually-wrapped products (fun-size candy, etc). We have a right to know what’s in our “Food”!

    Also, I believe we should receive warnings on packaging regarding ingredients and their interaction with our bodies, similar to the drug industry’s mandatory list of side-effects which must be reported in advertising.

    Grab a handful of dirt, place in a container with holes in the bottom for drainage, and plant some seeds! grow it yourself (parsley, clover, basil are great for window ledges!) and taste the difference!

    small ingredient lists, stay away from added colorants, and eat local foods! live longer, healthier, and happier!

  • Jessica

    What on earth is the food that the label is for..??

  • Carol H

    I think it’s supposed to be chocolate cake.
    CSPI has the right idea with the “Ingredient Facts”. Currently, manufacturers can list flour first for baked goods even though there is more sugar by weight than flour, simply by using more than one source/kind of sugar (sugar + honey + barley malt + brown sugar + agave, etc.). If each kind of sugar is present at a lower percent/weight than the flour, then it will be listed after the flour (making flour look like a bigger percentage of the food), even though the total weight of all sugars in the product is higher than that of the flour.

    FYI: there is no requirement for ingredient lists to be in all caps., and in fact FDA stipulates that they be “easy to read.”