The FDA is planning a minor facelift to the 20 year old nutrition label. When nutrition labels were introduced into the market, the food industry battled vehemently against them, while the government and health organizations explained that providing detailed information would help consumers make healthier choices. Fast forward to 2011, and it’s clear that the labels did not achieve their goal.
While more people are aware of the importance of proper nutrition, most of us still cannot understand what’s in a product and whether it’s better than a similar one down the shelf.
What changes is the FDA planning?
A proposal is in the works to change several parts of the label, including more accurate serving sizes, a greater emphasis on calories and a diminished role in the daily percent values for substances like fat, sodium and carbohydrates. Read more…
Seriously? Will these small changes help consumers choose less processed foods. Wake up Uncle Sam, you can’t fight obesity with cap guns. Bring out the heavy artillery please.
Here is Fooducate’s list of changes to food labels:
1. Real serving size. “More accurate serving sizes” as the FDA says sounds fishy. Let’s get REAL here. Have you ever noticed the ridiculously small serving sizes on packages – 3 Oreos? 15 potato chips? Or a single serve 20 fl oz bottle of cola written up as containing 2.5 servings? Manufacturers like to minimize the servings to toddler size portions so that the nutrition facts per serving won’t seem too bad (calories, sugar, etc…). This is misleading and needs to change to reflect how people really consume food and drink.
2. Daily values are important. Don’t ditch them! People need to know that a can of soup with 1200mg of sodium is more than 50% of the daily maximum for healthy people, and more than 75% of the daily max for about half the population.
3. Ingredients. Focus on what makes up the food, not just the numbers on a few key nutrients. We all know that manufacturers have ways to pump up nutrient values of foods to make them seem healthy. Look at any sugary kids’ cereal fortified with vitamins and minerals that are created in a lab. That’s not real food, folks.
It would be very beneficial to see a percentage amount of the main ingredients in the list, as well as a highlight on controversial ingredients. See this example, a leading kids cereal (guess which one)
Sugar [41%] , Corn Flour [20%], Wheat Flour[15%], Whole Oat Flour[8%], Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (One or More of: Coconut, Cottonseed, and Soybean) (Less than 0.5 g Trans Fat Per Serving), Salt, Sodium Ascorbate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Reduced Iron, Natural Orange, Lemon, Cherry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Lime, and Other Natural Flavors, Red No. 40, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 6, Zinc Oxide, Niacinamide, Turmeric Color, Blue No. 1, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Vitamin A Palmitate, Annatto Color, BHT (Preservative), Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12.
Get it? Sugar is the first ingredient, 41% by weight!!! Which leads us to the next point…
4. Sugar and ADDED sugar. Currently there is no FDA defined level of maximum daily consumption of sugar. People don’t know if 27 grams of sugar is a big chunk of their daily allowance or not. For sodium, fats, and vitamins, the “percent of daily value” (DV) clearly lets you know if you’re getting a low or high amount. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at most 125 grams of total sugar per day.
Additionally, the nutrition label states the amount of total sugar in a serving, but it does not indicate whether the sugar is added to the food, occurs naturally, or both. Caloric-ly, there is no difference between added sugar and sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. But the benefit of fruits containing naturally occurring sugars is in the additional vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidantss and phytochemicals they provide. Added sugars provide no health benefits. They are truly empty calories. People should choose products with as little added sugar as possible. Unfortunately, today consumers can only guess how much sugar has been added to a product.
5. Zero should be zero. Did you know that if a product contains trans fat, but less than 0.5 grams per serving, it can legally be labeled as 0 gram of trans fat? This is ridiculous. Serving sizes can be “calibrated” to be just under half a gram’s worth of trans-fat and receive the coveted zero number. But when wolfing down a snack bag (real serving size much larger than labeled – see point #1), you could be getting even 1.25 grams of trans-fat, all while thinking that the product contains none at all.
6. No more qualified health claims. The FDA allows manufacturers to place health claims on products based on sound scientific evidence. But in the past few years, allowances for “limited research” has become acceptable, as long as the claim is “qualified” with mouse print disclaimers elsewhere on the package (usually a tiny font at the bottom). This does not serve consumers’ best interest and creates a false halo of health in places it should not.
7. Caffeine content. Products that contain caffeine should clearly state the amount. People are often surprised to discover caffeine in soft drinks, cakes, and other snack items. Some energy drinks contain ridiculously high amounts.
8. Better allergy and intolerance info. More than 30 Millions Americans suffer from some sort of allergy or food intolerance. Although the presence of the 8 major allergens is clearly stated (it’s the law), there are fuzzy areas. For example, when a plant manufactures a product without peanuts, but uses a production line that processes peanuts as well, there is no clear wording to consumers. “Processed in a plant that also manufactures peanuts” does not make the decision easy for a parent to decide.
9. Allow rBGH-free labels. rBGH / rBST is a hormone injected into cows to increase their milk output. The hormone has been associated with various health risks for humans consuming the milk. Bowing to industry pressure in the 1990’s, the FDA required manufacturers who chose NOT to use milk from rBGH cows and put that information on the label to ALSO state that that there is no significant difference between rBGH and rBGH-free dairy. In the past few years we have seen announcements from major dairy brands that they will not be using milk from rBGH cows. Why not see that info on the label as well?
10. GMO labeling. In Europe, government food agencies require labeling of ingredients from genetically modified organisms. Consumers voted with their wallet and chose not to buy those products. Shouldn’t Americans be granted the same basic freedom of choice?
What to do at the supermarket:
Don’t hold your breath for our suggested changes. And not even for the gentle changes the FDA is planning. You can be sure that each change will be fought over by lobbying groups who will drag things out as long as possible. In the meantime, we’re here and on your mobile phones (iPhone / Android) as a resource to learn about nutrition labels and hard to pronounce ingredients, and ultimately to make healthy grocery choices.