Nutrition Facts Label Undergoing A Makeover

The Nutrition Facts label on packaged goods in this country came into being in 1994. Not much has happened to it since then. Today, the FDA proposed changes to it.

FDA News Release, 27 February 2014: FDA proposes updates to Nutrition Facts label on food packages

Some of the changes (with my comment):

  • Add a sub category under “Sugars” called “Added Sugars” to designate how much sugar was added to the product (Good idea.)
  • Require “Serving Size” to reflect how much people generally eat, e.g. 1 cup of ice cream instead of 1/2 cup. (Good and bad. Good because the calories, which are now LARGE on the label will quickly tell the story of how much you’re eating. Bad because it may push people to think the bigger serving is normal and healthful when it may not be.)
  • Require listings for vitamin D and potassium. Currently they are voluntary. Vitamins A and C would move from required to voluntary.
  • While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed “because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.” (Bad because the amount of fat is as important as the type. )
  • Emphasize Calories, Serving sizes, and Percent Daily Value. (Good and bad. Good that Calories is LARGE, and so, informative.  Good that attention will be drawn to how many servings is in the package, but this is also bad for reason no. 2 above – those servings may now be larger.  As to Percent Daily Value, see below.)

I think this whole “Percent Daily Value” thing has been more confusing for consumers, not less.  I’ve said this for years, ever since the Nutrition Facts label came into being. I recall the label that existed prior to Nutrition Facts. It was called, simply, “Nutrition Information.” It disclosed the actual amount, in grams, of a nutrient. The Nutrition Facts label did away with that.

To illustrate my point, here are the current label on the left, and the proposed label on the right:

NutritionFactsLabelOldNutritionFactsLabelNew

Before 1994, if you were eating yogurt, you would have been informed that a serving contained, say, 260 mg of calcium. As you can see from the current Nutrition Facts label, the amount of calcium is now listed as 20%. What does that mean? 20% of what? Do you know how many people have asked me that? Of the “Daily Value” of course, but this was just another list for people to consult.  And this “Daily Value” may not even apply to them, since it’s an average for everyone – bodybuilders, pregnant women, seniors. Ideally, you would look up the amount of calcium, in grams, recommended for your gender, stage in life, and any other pressing circumstance, then compare that to the amount in the yogurt. But how much is in the yogurt? 20%. To find the grams, You would have to calculate 20% of the daily value for calcium used as the basis for this label (which requires looking up that figure and doing math).  I think people stopped reading this paragraph after the first 2 lines.

Also, what if you want to eat more carbohydrate and less fat than the Daily Values instruct?  Or vice versa?  More math.

I have always said we should bring back actual nutrient amounts, in grams. It looks like they did, for a spattering of nutrients anyway.

After all this, I think the Ingredient list is a better gauge of a product’s healthfulness. Look for few ingredients, few to no scientific names, and keep in mind that foods are listed in descending order by weight.

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