According to a recent study, Americans are confused, very confused. You wake up one day and are told to eat gargantuan amounts of fish in the name of healthy fats, which are good for your health. But then you are told that many fishes are high in mercury — bad for your health. You are told to increase your vitamin D intake, in the form of supplements, because sun exposure is dangerous. But then others suggest the vitamin D levels initially recommended are too high.
And then there are those food labels. You almost need a PhD or expertise in sleuthing, to dissect and understand just what is in the food you are eating, how much of it to eat, and a whole range of other important pieces of information, in order to know if it is good for you or approved for your diet. And how many of you have eaten the whole package, only to find out that you just consumed several servings? Diet blown again!!!
Well after 20 years of procrastination (my assessment), nutrition labels are getting a major makeover and do-over. The FDA says that because of a host of new studies, evolving health information, and Americans ever-growing waistlines, we need to update nutrition labels so that the average consumer can make a reasonably quick and informed decision about a product.
According to a recent Associated Press report, Michael Jacobson, head of CSPI, a consumer nutrition advocacy group, thinks the average nutrition label is not as effective as it could be in helping people decipher what the food contains, from a nutrition breakdown perspective. As a nutritionist, I can easily and quickly convert grams into calories, and figure out the percentage of fat, protein or sugar in a food — but a harried mother or a consumer with little nutritional education really can’t….or won’t.
And what does natural or fortified or organic mean, and what are all those chemical names really telling us?
FDA representatives recognize that consumers now need better information. They need to be able to recognize healthy fat from artery-clogging fat. They need to easily recognize when a food has hidden trans fat (at least until it is hopefully banned from our food chain). Consumers need to identify foods that contain a lot of highly refined sugar. And they really need to know portion size and the amount of calories in that portion and how many servings are in that box or bag they are ready to buy or eat. Another big issue is fortification, because people who are eating a lot of processed foods (and drinks) are getting quite a hefty dose of certain vitamins, and if they're not tracking those specific vitamin amounts, they could be overeating certain nutrients — too much of a good thing is not good.
The FDA has been working on label revision for over a decade and they have seen an upswing in consumer interest in label information. The goal of making over the label is to make calorie listings more prominent (with clear serving size). Calories from fat may or may not be revised, since types of fat are crucial to that discussion. Some experts want radical revisions when it comes to deciphering sugar — maybe a separation of naturally occurring versus refined sugars, and a uniform presentation of sugar information on all foods and drinks. In addition to gram measurements, CSPI suggests also showing “teaspoon amounts.” Banning of the use of the term “whole wheat” is being considered, unless the product is mostly or entirely made from whole wheat. The discussion of serving size gets a bit dicey, so the FDA is considering adding a column on the label so you will see “calories per serving” and “calories per container or bag.” There are experts pushing for front-of-the box labels, so consumers see immediate information before they even reach for the product.
We are a nation in the midst of nutrition confusion and an obesity crisis, so hopefully, the experts and the FDA will get it right this time.
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.
Published On: January 29, 2014