Confused or frustrated by food labels? There's a good chance the dizzying array of numbers and information currently on food packages will be a bit more clear when new and improved food labels appear on your favorite packaged foods. Although the specific changes have yet to be fully fleshed out and will take time to implement, the Associated Press reports that the proposed changes by the White House and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include the following:
- A more prominent display of calories;
- "Calories from fat" would be removed;
- A new line for "added sugars" would be added"
- Serving sizes that reflect amounts people eat –not what they should eat—would be listed;
- Both "nutrients per serving" and "nutrients per container" would be given for foods that are often consumed in a single sitting eg frozen dinners or a can of soup;
- Nutrients that Americans need more of—for example, potassium and vitamin D—would be included.
According to a New York Times article, the proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days, and it will take months to finalize the changes. The article also says the FDA will give food companies two years to put the changes into effect.
Overall, I like the proposed changes and do think they have the potential to help parents feed their kids—and themselves—better. Knowledge can be power, and seeing how many calories a seemingly small package, can or container of food has without having to do so much math can be an eye opener. In my opinion, at the end of the day, knowing calorie intake is key for long-term weight management, so having a more prominent display of calories—especially on single serve items—can be helpful. However, I do caution parents and their kids to realize that the serving size listed on a food or beverage is not always the amount they should consume in a single sitting. It's always important for parents and their kids at all ages and stages to keep current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the recommendations outlined in MyPlate in the back of their minds to guide how much of any food or beverage to consume. Getting rid of "calories from fat" is also a great change. It's confusing, and doesn't distinguish between healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and those we want to limit (saturated and trans fats). And fat is not the enemy—about 20 to 35% of daily calories should come from fat according to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Listing added sugars would also be an excellent move. Unlike naturally occurring sugars found in milk and fruit, added sugars are added during processing. Calories from added sugars contribute calories and not much else. Since kids and parents tend to over consume added sugars and solid fats—also referred to as empty calories—learning which products have them and how much they contain is key to reduce them in the diet. Currently, parents and their kids consume up to about one third of all their calories as added sugars and solid fats.
I also support an emphasis on nutrients on food labels. Although people eat foods rather than nutrients, highlighting how much of certain nutrients products contain—especially nutrients many (including kids) fall short on—can help kids and their parents meet nutrient needs and optimize their health.
Only time will tell if the new food labels of the future will help kids and their parents make more nutritious and mindful selections at the grocery store and eat enough—but no too much—to meet their needs and maintain a healthy body weight. For now, I think these proposed changes will help us all take one more step in the right direction to eat more healthfully and reap the many benefits of a nutritious, balanced and calorie-appropriate diet.
To learn more about food labels, check out Planning Healthy Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label on the FDA Voice, and my previous Scoop on Food post on food labels.
Do you like the proposed food label changes? Why or why not?
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