In the late 1960’s, the FDA instituted nutrition labeling on certain food products. Information regarding caloric and sodium content were listed on foods that were mainly for special dietary needs. The everyday citizen had to wait years before the caloric and nutrient content of a packaged food was revealed.
In fact, many food manufacturers were not obligated to have nutrition labeling on their products until about 20 years ago, and the labeling requirements often required a calculator to determine the actual caloric content.
Since then, nutrition labeling procedures were updated periodically to include disclosures for additional nutrients as well as unhealthy ingredients, such as trans fats, but little had been done to make the labeling easier to read and understand. Even though the science of understanding healthy vs unhealthy foods have advanced over the years, the nutrition panel on food labels did not reflect specific new information.
According to the latest news broadcasts, all that confusion is about to change as the FDA proposes several major updates to the nutrition labeling on packaged foods and beverages.
The changes would include a greater emphasis on total calories, added sugars and the specific content of certain important nutrients, such as Vitamin D and potassium.
The first major change is that the caloric content of a packaged food or drink would reflect what an actual serving size of the product is in reality. For instance, few of us consume 8 ounces only of a 20-ounce soda, half a candy bar, only 15 potato chips or half a muffin, but that’s the serving size and resulting calorie content depicted on the nutrition panels of these foods.
If you actually read the fine print on many products that we buy off the shelf and consume the entire package as one serving, the nutrition panel lists a serving size that is only a third to one half of the quantity in the package.
As a clinical specialist with an advanced degree in nutrition, I’ve considered this labeling practice nothing more than deceptive advertising and have attempted to educate whenever the opportunity presented itself.
But that confusion about serving size will change with the new label format proposed by the FDA. For instance, one entire muffin and one candy bar will be considered a serving size and the caloric content will be adjusted to reflect that new larger portion. One could say that nutrition labeling is moving out of the laboratory and into the real world where we finally have information that we can relate to and put into everyday use.
Other changes that reflect current understanding of nutritional science are that more emphasis will be placed on the type of fat a product contains rather than just total fat. The fat content will still be listed, but it will be broken down into total fat vs saturated fat and trans fat. Some packaging already contains such information, but it will become more universal with the new proposals.
Studies show that Americans eat much more sugar that they realize. Many foods contain hidden sugars and the nutrition labels are ambiguous as to how such added sugar is in a product, and if that sugar is natural to the food or has been added by the manufacturer.
With the new proposals, the sugar added by the manufacturer will be listed as just that—Added Sugar.
Other nutrients that have undergone scientific scrutiny in the recent past, and for which new daily intake amounts have been recommended, will also have those new daily dose recommendations reflected in the new nutrition labels. These include sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, dietary fiber and Vitamin D.
With this announcement, the FDA has initiated a 90-day discussion period, during which experts and the general public could comment on the proposed rules. After that, the FDA will issue a final ruling on their proposals, and manufacturers will have two years in which to implement the changes.
I believe that these changes will result in more effective management of the caloric intake of the average American citizen, and it could have a meaningful and positive impact on the continuing struggle with obesity in the United States.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!