Why the New Nutrition Labels are (kind of) Bullshit

The FDA has finalized their plan for new nutrition labels to be incorporated on packaged foods over the next couple years. The new label design was unveiled on Friday and includes some interesting updates (they’re not all good). 

Before sharing my thoughts, here is a side by side comparison of the labels from the FDA’s website to check out…

NFL Side by SideOh boy. This is a complicated subject.

Design and DVs

Content aside, the new label is a design nightmare (not like the old one was great…). The different font sizes and line weights make it almost unreadable and it’s not user-friendly in the least, which is pretty disappointing. For people who may already be confused about making good choices, this design definitely doesn’t help. Switching from calories, to grams, to daily percentages on one label also isn’t helpful. Most people don’t know how to translate grams of nutrients into useable information that can be applied to their food choices. This also doesn’t really give people a useful framework for fitting their food choices into the USDA’s guidelines that have been simplified into MyPlate.

Another thing to keep in mind is that daily values are not applicable to everyone – age, lifestyle and state of health all affect dietary needs. For many people, the DVs based on a 2,000 calorie diet may be a significant overestimate of actual needs.

Serving Sizes

What I find most troubling, is the labels will increase what are considered “normal” serving sizes. This was an attempt to reflect that people often consume more than what is listed as a serving size in a sitting. Unfortunately, what I think this does is normalize inflated portions and may even end up serving as justification for consuming more. According to the FDA’s site, “serving sizes must be based on the amounts of food and drink that people typically consume, not on how much they should consume.” This concept is understandable, but to me, the phrase “serving size” suggests that it is the proper size people should be consuming. For example, ice cream portions were previously considered 1/2 cup, but will now be listed on labels as 2/3 cups. I see both sides to this argument, but worry that these seemingly small increases in suggested serving sizes across the board of packaged foods will lead us to eat significantly more by normalizing and even suggesting larger portions. Grams and DVs may not mean much to people, but 2/3 of a cup does.

Added Sugar

A major change I’m happy to see included is the new “added sugar” listing. The Sugar Association, however, wasn’t too pleased and released a statement disclosing their concern that the change “sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America” (lol). Americans consume almost 400 calories a day from added sugars (with most of them coming from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda). Consuming that many calories of added sugar daily not only is a likely precursor to diabetes and obesity, but aside from calories, it doesn’t offer any nutritive value and may be misplacing foods that do, ultimately leading to a decline in dietary wellness. Having “added sugar” listed on a label, helps us to make the important distinction between naturally existing sugars and those that have been added giving consumers the opportunity to seek out alternatives low in added sugars. Still, sugars are listed in grams and, again, that is difficult to translate into useable information. To put that into perspective, 1 gram of sugar equals about 4 teaspoons.

Fat

Also of note, is that the label no longer includes “calories from fat.” This change acknowledges that some types of fats are beneficial – calories from fat aren’t necessary “bad” calories. We know that unsaturated fats are actually heart healthy. Amounts of saturated and trans fats will still be included on the label, because these types of fats should still be limited (although there is some debate on saturate fats – coconut oil, anyone?).

Vitamins and Minerals

Lastly, Vitamin D and Potassium have been added, while Vitamins A and C are no longer required. This is because Vitamins A and C are no longer considered nutrients of concern in the American population, whereas Americans tend to have more difficulty meeting needs for Vitamin D and Potassium.

 


 

Overall, this label is a minor improvement, but I do think there is so much more to be done to create a user-friendly label that helps to synthesize the provided information into a balanced diet. What do you think?

<3

Shauna Keeler, MS RD

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