The White House and FDA (Federal Food & Drug Administration) have announced a new format for the nutrition label, also known as “nutrition facts panel” in food packages and beverages. It has been more than 20 years since it was first implemented by the FDA.
The nutrition label is an important tool providing nutritional information of the components in each commercial food or drink. It details the amount of calories, fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein, as well as other nutrients, vitamins, minerals and added ingredients. It was supposed to allow consumers to make better decisions when purchasing a food, although this has not been the case.
The current format seems to be confusing for consumers to read and understand.
Also, the food manufacturers have been allowed to claim a food has 0 grams of Trans fat even if the product contains 0.5 grams or less. Trans fats are dangerous fats added by food makers to improve texture and make products last longer. It can raise “bad cholesterol”, clogging arteries and causing cardiovascular diseases.
As an obesity specialist, I have taught my patients how to properly read nutrition labels so they can make better decisions while purchasing food.
But, why the change? Why now?
These changes have been necessary for a while. The increase in the rate of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease in children and adults has triggered government officials to look closer at the amount of food additives. Among them, sugar, salt, and trans fats are not properly disclosed by the food industry.
In 2010, Bruce Silverglade, Director of Legal Affairs, and Ilene Ringel Heller, Senior Staff Attorney, at the Center for Science in the Public Interest on their publication Food Labeling Chaos, recommended the following changes in the fool labeling system:
• Many people think that one package is equal to one serving. The nutrition label should disclose the TOTAL AMOUNT of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, added sugars, fiber and protein per package size and not serving size.
• The Total Calories and Serving Size should be in larger print.
• The calories coming from fat should no longer be listed. It does not disclose if the source of fat is healthy or not. Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fats should still be required to appear on the nutrition label.
• With no daily values for trans fat, added sugars, or protein, consumers don’t know how much they should be eating every day.
• The percentage of Daily Value (% DV) is confusing for consumers. It does not indicate the right amount required for each person to eat every day.
• The daily amount of sodium should be 1,500 mg for women & 1800 mg for men. The current 2,400 mg limit is too high.
• “Dietary fiber” should be called “fiber” and should include only intact fiber from whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and other foods.
• The label should list only added sugars (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, etc.) not the naturally occurring sugars in milk and fruits.
• Refined sugars such as enriched bleach flour should be included as part of the list of ingredients.
What are the new proposals?
• The most visible change is that the Total Calories and Servings per package would also be more prominent (larger print). The “Amount Per Serving” will be changed to “Amount Per Cup.” A 20-ounce soda will become one serving.
• The proposed labels would remove the “calories from fat” line you currently see on labels, focusing instead on total calories found in each serving. Nutrition specialists have come to understand that the type of fat we eat matters more than the calories from fat. The listing of total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat would remain the same.
• If approved, the new labels would place a bigger emphasis on Total Calories, added sugars and certain nutrients, such as Vitamin D and Potassium.
• FDA would update Daily Values for various nutrients. Daily Values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value (% DV). In addition, the % DV would be shifted to the left of the label. FDA wants to help consumers visually and quickly put nutrient information in context.
What’s my opinion?
I have been practicing Obesity Medicine since 2005. As a family physician, I have seen the devastating effects poor eating habits and obesity have on people’s health. These changes have been necessary and we hope it helps Americans make better healthy food choices.
• The food industry should disclose the amount of Trans Fat, even if the amount in the food is 0.5 grams or less. However, I find it VERY unlikely food manufacturers will disclose this information, unless it is mandated by law.
How will people determine the amount of total calories and other nutrients appropriate for them are?
We need to teach our population the basics about nutrition and how it changes as we grow. If nutrition classes could be implemented starting in kindergarten, will have healthier and stronger communities in the future.
If you have any comments about the food labels system, we would like to hear from you.
The FDA is accepting public comments until May 28, 2014. You may go to FDA.gov for more information.