FDA’s High-Tech (and Still Confusing) Nutrition Labels for 2016

Proposed nutrition label

For those who find that trying to read a nutrition label on a package of food is something akin to trying to decipher the jargon on last year’s climate change report, good news: the FDA now hears you.

This week the federal government proposed some changes to the 1993 nutrition labeling system that we find on packaged foods in supermarkets. They aren’t huge and they aren’t jazzy, but even my nutritionist dad would have been impressed with the tweaks.

After all, if you want someone to remember the information, give them the facts first, right? Most of us are wowed by numbers, not by scientific names for the pieces and parts that make up our food. To many of us, 5 percent saturated fat speaks a lot more plainly than “saturated fat 1 gram.”

The newest edition to the label is the “Added Sugars” line, which is no doubt directed at educating us about the sugar that often gets added to our food during preparation. It’s a great idea, especially for diabetics who must avoid additional sugar.

And, for better or worse, they’ve revamped the serving sizes for larger appetites. The old serving sizes didn’t always seem to make sense to every diet, age or body size. But unfortunately, the new approach may not either. If the government wants us to be aware of the amount we’re eating in sugars, fats, etc., why change the portion sizes on labels just because “people are eating larger serving sizes”?

Old (current) nutrition label

The new label proposes changing the portion size to the amount that is normally eaten these days in a serving. So that 12-ounce bottle of orange juice will now be considered one serving because we’ve been drinking it that way as a snack (and because the manufacturer packaged it that way).

“These updates would reflect the reality of what people actually eat, according to recent food consumption data,” says the FDA. “By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they ‘should’ be eating.”

But how will that help people understand portion sizes? Isn’t it better to encourage manufacturers to tailor that packaging to what should be a normal portion for the most healthy portion size?

If a candy bar that has 300 calories and 20 grams of fat is labeled as one serving, will we really find the will power to say the government’s wrong and put away the rest of the candy?

The proposed labels aren’t perfect, but according to the FDA consumer update, they aren’t chiseled in stone, either. Yet. The FDA is asking for input which you can do at its official docket page. Let them know what really speaks to you.  After the 90-day comment period, companies have two years to implement the changes.

Images: FDA

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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