Food label changes proposed by FDA are sorely needed

Understanding what — and how much — you eat could save your life.

Posted on March 3, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

I had planned this week to write about nutrition since March is National Nutrition Month. Indirectly I am as this week's topic is the proposed new food label changes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed to update the nutrition facts label for packaged foods to reflect the latest scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The proposed label also would replace out-of-date serving sizes to better align with how much people really eat, and it would feature a fresh design to highlight key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes.

There are many parts of the suggested changes that I totally agree with. The label is dated. The label was a good label and it was a large improvement when it started, but people’s needs have changed and it is past time for an update. The FDA’s newly proposed nutrition gacts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.

The first change is to require information about the amount of “added sugars” in a food product. I really like this one as the quantity of sugar being added to our foods is out of control and I believe this has added to obesity in America.

This next one is the one that I have concerns about and it is to update serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people currently eat. What and how much people eat and drink has changed since serving sizes were first put in place in 1994. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what people “should” be eating. Some people are already overeating and not considering portion sizes, so I believe that changing serving sizes will not be a positive change. When extension educators are presenting on MyPlate we also share about the total amount of food from a food group and provide serving size suggestions.

This third change really makes sense, and that is to present “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings. Just my opinion, but this is one that more of you should read and then practice.

Our nutritional needs have changed and recommendation no. 4 is to require the declaration of potassium and vitamin D — nutrients that some in the U.S. population are not getting enough of. This puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health. Potassium is beneficial in lowering blood pressure. Vitamins A and C would no longer be required on the label, though manufacturers could declare them voluntarily.

No. 5 is to revise the daily values for a variety of nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D. Daily values are used to calculate the percent daily value on the label, which helps consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet. I know for a fact that more must be done to have food producers reduce the amount of salt that they are adding to our foods. Heart disease is our number one disease and overconsumption of salt leads to heart disease. To reduce sodium consumption you have to do more than eliminate salting your food.

No. 6 is interesting as I have been reading more about the importance of health fat in our eating and not so much about calories. 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. I use the labels and I would really like the calories from fat to stay on the label.

The goal of change no. 7 is to refresh the format to emphasize certain elements such as calories, serving sizes and percent daily value, which are important in addressing current public health problems like obesity and heart disease. This is needed.

Beginning March 3, the agency is accepting public comment on the proposed changes for 90 days. You can submit your comments online by visiting https://www.federalregister.gov. Our office is planning to teach more about nutrition by offering Dining with Diabetes — an interactive four-part series and includes food preparation and tasting. To learn more visit our office website at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/elkhart or call the office at 574-533-0554. The cost of the program is $30 per individual or $40 per couple of the same household.

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Reach her at lienhart@purdue.edu or 574-533-0554.

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