Let’s admit it, nutrition labels suck. They’re confusing, have not been effective in helping Americans make healthy food choices, and are so full of loopholes that food companies have figured out how to take any crappy product and “healthwash” it to a point that it is considered a superfood.
Although the nutrition label format in its current form is only 20 years old, it’s time for change. We’ve suggested multiple improvements in the past, and now are happy to see that several members of Congress have proposed a bill with significant improvements. Here are some of the proposed amendments to current labels:
1. The use of the word “Natural” to describe a food will be much more limited. Foods with ingredients that were derived through nontraditional chemical processes cannot claim to be natural. Examples of ingredients currently considered Natural that would no longer be so: high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, cocoa processed with alkalai.
2. The term “healthy” will not be allowed for grain based foods if at least half of their grains are not whole grains.
3. Disclosure of added sugars. This will make it easier for a consumer to know how many teaspoons of sugar in his chocolate milk come naturally from milk (usually 3), and how many were added to make it more appealing (2-4).
4. Disclosure of caffeine levels in a food or beverage at any level above 10 milligrams.
5. Standardized Front of Pack nutrition information. This is a mini nutrition label that appears on the front of the package instead of the back or side. It is supposed to inform a shopper with a quick glance whether she should consider the food or not. Unfortunately, there are many competing front of pack labeling systems out there, leaving consumers confused.
The one area this bill does not touch upon is genetically engineered food. This is a glaring omission, especially given consumer interest, and state level labeling initiatives across the country.
Nonetheless, this bill, if approved, is a nutritionist’s pipe dream. The chances of such sweeping reform are very small. The food and agriculture lobbies will block it by persuading their puppet elected officials that the current label is good enough, and that any changes would be “confusing” to consumers.
What additional changes would you like to see to nutrition labels?