For the first time since 1996 the FDA has updated the requirements for the type of information that should appear on food labels and how that information should look. This is a boon for consumers who have been inundated with information about what is healthy and what is harmful but, when you pick up a package of processed food trying to make sense of the labels, it can be challenging.
While there are still some huge holes that continue to allow processed food companies to pull the wool over our eyes, we are moving in the right direction.
According to the FDA beginning July 2018 labels will:
- Contain an updated design to highlight “calories” and “servings.
- List requirements for serving sizes that more closely reflect the amounts of food that people currently eat.
- Declare grams and percent of daily value (%DV) for “added sugars” to help consumers know how much sugar has been added to the product.
- Contain “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for certain multi-serving food products that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings. Examples include a pint of ice cream and a 3-ounce bag of chips. With dual-column labels available, people will be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.
- Include for packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20 ounce soda, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.
- Include updated daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D.
- List Vitamin D and potassium including the actual gram amount, in addition to the %DV.
- Remove “Calories from Fat” because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount. “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will continue to be required.
- Offer an abbreviated footnote to better explain the %DV.
The bottom line for consumers is that labels will be easier to read, especially calories, which will display in large bold numbers. How nice it will be not to have to dig out my readers when checking out a new product label!
The biggest win for consumers (and hopefully an indication of a trend) is that the FDA will include guidelines for added sugar. This is an important first step in the direction of recognizing that added sugar is a frequent cause of many disease processes including heart disease, diabetes and metabolic disease. According to experts like Robert Lustig of UCSF, the amount of sugar listed (10 percent of your calories) is still too high but it’s a move in the right direction.
The other concern about the new labeling is that, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, the emphasis remains on calories rather than the degree to which the food is processed.
Healthy eating should not focus on the number of calories consumed versus the number of calories expended; this long held concept has come under fire lately as being ineffective in controlling food related disease processes as well as the obesity epidemic. Instead, current scientific data supports the theory that highly processed food is damaging to the gut as well as the metabolism and may be the cause of the steep rise in autoimmune diseases.
When food is processed the fiber is stripped and sugar (and other substances) are added. And in regard to fiber, the new labeling does not differentiate between fiber that is beneficial to the bacteria in our gut versus the cereal-type fiber which adds bulk to the food with the side effect of often produces a lot of gas.
Overall the new labeling is a win for consumers; it’s an acknowledgment that sugar is harmful to our health and processed food companies need be more transparent in how they present their products to the public. For more details and critique on this issue please visit the following sites:
The Institute for Responsible Nutrition
If you want to make life really simple for yourself limit the amount of food that you consume that requires a label. When you’re eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains you won’t have to dig your reading glasses out of your purse to figure out how healthy or harmful something is to your body.
As always, let me know what you think of the new guidelines – what would you change so you can make a more informed decision?
Read more of Virginia Eaton’s blog posts here.
Virginia Eaton is the owner of Oakhurst wellness center Class: The Body Pastiche