The New Nutrition Label

by Maria Rickert Hong, CHHC

Proposed changes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to nutrition labels on packaged foods make a positive and meaningful difference to our country’s health, at least to those who pay attention to food labels. Here’s a breakdown of what I think are the positive changes:

  • More accurate serving size. This is the big winner here because it reflects what people currently eat in one sitting. Most people don’t carefully measure out ½ cup of ice cream for a serving; they eat half the pint instead, so the new label will reflect that reality.
  • Big emphasis on “Total Calories”. This will be in a much-larger font size so that it really grabs your attention. It’s kind of like the angel on your shoulder saying, “Do you REALLY want to eat that many calories?”
  • The addition of “Added Sugars” to the label. People will know exactly how much sugar food manufacturers have been adding to our food. The problem with our misguided focus on eating low-fat foods is that it comes with the added cost of nasty chemicals to achieve the same “mouth-feel” as well as added sugar. Fat and sugar both make food taste better. If you’re taking out one (fat), you’re likely replacing it with more of the other (sugar).
    Rhetorical question: Is it coincidental that at the same time we’ve been eating low-fat foods (remember, saturated fats were supposed to have been causing cardiovascular disease), there has been a skyrocketing epidemic of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity? I think not! It’s the sugar. Many times, it’s not listed as “sugar” on the ingredient label, so it can be tricky to figure out the exact source of those calories.
  • Elimination of “Calories from Fat”. Unfortunately, we’ve become fat-phobic in this country. I wish we could become sugar-phobic instead. Sugar causes a dopamine rush, meaning that eating it is addictive and makes you (temporarily) feel good, so that’s probably not going to happen!
  • The addition of “Vitamin D” RDA percentage. This country is in the midst of a vitamin D epidemic deficiency, and it’s believed to be a factor that plays a part in the epidemics of autism, allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases, so having people pay attention to vitamin D-rich foods is a plus. It’s possible that that most of these foods will be supplemented with synthetic vitamin D (vitamin D2) instead of the natural form (vitamin D3), so this is going to create another game for food manufacturers who may add synthetic vitamin D in order to claim that their product is “rich in vitamin D.”

Some people don’t pay attention to food labels and portion sizes. These people are going to eat whatever portion is set in front of them, which is why former-mayor Bloomberg of New York tried to tax soft drinks over 8 ounces – do we really need to drink a Big Gulp? The documentary “Super Size Me” did a great job of showing us how this kind of portion creep is making us fatter.

Nutrition label improvements are not such a big deal if you buy foods that don’t have these labels, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, which is what we should be eating a lot of anyway.