Will the Proposed Changes to Food Labels Make People Healthier?
The answer is simple: no. While the First Lady and the FDA may have good intentions, revisions need to be systemic before food labels will stop confusing the public. Changes on the nutrition facts label (outlined below) are a start but the proposed changes have some major flaws. And what about all of the misleading health claims about this product "may help reduce the risk of _____" and "made with __grams of whole grains"?
Do you read food labels? If so, you may be looking at a new format sometime in the next few years. For the first time in 20 years, the FDA is proposing changes to the nutrition facts label. What exactly is changing and, more importantly, will this make an ounce of difference in people's food purchasing decisions?What is being proposed?
When looking at a glance at the current label and proposed label side by side, they look pretty similar. The most obvious difference is the calories per serving. Look at it more closely and there are numerous changes in the details. Here's what's being proposed:
• Calories per serving and serving size in bigger font and more obvious
• "Added Sugars" indicated under carbohydrates - currently "sugars" includes naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and dairy as well as added sugar from things like high fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, etc.
• Adding the amount of Vitamin D and potassium, micronutrients that many Americans are lacking in, at the bottom of the label where calcium, iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C are currently listed
• Changes in serving sizes to more accurately reflect what people normally eat or drink. For example, a 20oz coke bottle contains 2.5 servings but does anyone split it up into drinking their soda over 2.5 days?
• Adding a daily value for sugar
• Taking out the "calories from fat" lineWill this help or hurt?
It's impossible to say whether this will help, hurt, or do nothing at all. Similar to adding the calorie counts to restaurant menus, people who already want to make health conscious decisions do but now it's a little easier. If it gets other people to pay more attention, great, but calories put in bold font isn't enough of a slap in the face to inspire healthier choices for people who aren't wanting to.
The part of the proposed changes that is most alarming is changing the serving sizes to more accurately reflect what people normally eat or drink. This isn't going to help anyone eat less or reduce their portions. By conforming to the unhealthy habit of over-consuming and trend of larger and larger portion sizes, the FDA is dropping standards rather than upholding them. What a disservice to the American public.Alternative Solutions
1. Make individual packages and containers smaller
. Reduce soda bottles down to 12oz and make chip bags only hold 1 serving rather than 1.5-2.5 servings. Same goes for nuts, trail mix, and other snack type foods that people usually eat the whole bag of in one sitting. This would cost millions, if not billions, of dollars for the food industry so this isn't a realistic solution but one that should be entertained.
2. Have serving sizes consistent with MyPlate serving size recommendations
. If ½ cup cooked pasta is a serving, have the same thing on the pasta box. Make it simple and keep it consistent so people can easily transfer MyPlate recommendations to their own plate.My conclusion
I stand by my recommendation that the majority of our diets should be comprised of foods that don't have labels and/or have a single ingredient. It takes the confusion out of deciphering complex food labels and, more importantly, provides a diet high in nutrient-rich foods. Other than that, pay attention to calories per serving, serving size, and measure your servings. And avoid eating straight from the package!
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. Erin Kuh, registered dietitian, nutrition coach, and owner of The Plate Shaper, and is dedicated to helping you redesign the way you eat for permanent results.