It’s taken almost four years, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced proposed changes to the current food labeling which is almost 20 years old.
The major changes fall into three specific categories:
- more accurate reporting based on nutritional science,
- updated serving size information and
- easier to read labels which more prominently display information relating to specific health concerns such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
When we select foods to eat we are practicing nutrition. Ideally human beings will select foods which are prepared in the best way to be safely assimilated by the body in a way that helps promote the best possible health. Some of the changes proposed as a result of recent science include additional information on “added sugars’, and the updating of daily requirements for nutrients like fiber and Vitamin D.
Another significant step will be to require manufacturers to post the amount of both Vitamin D and potassium on the label. This change is because these two nutrients have shown “public health significance.”
According to information published on WebMD, “potassium plays a role in many body functions including transmission of nerve signals, muscle contractions, fluid balance, and various chemical reactions.”
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is important to overall good health including fighting infections and insuring that muscles, especially the heart, lungs and brain are working properly. Vitamin D is unique because the body is capable of making Vitamin D itself. When sunlight touches the skin, the body converts that light into Vitamin D. Without enough exposure to sunlight the body does not produce enough Vitamin D. Rickets, a bone disease often seen in children is the result of inadequate Vitamin D.
Other vitamin content such as Vitamins A and C could be posted voluntarily by the manufacturer.
This is a more contentious issue. By law the label must reflect not the “proper” serving size but has to reflect how much people actually eat for a serving. Remember these labels were first written 20 years ago and there is no argument that Americans are eating quite differently than they did 20 years ago. We have become too familiar with the concept of “super-sizing” our food.
To counter this anomaly in the law, the FDA has proposed a dual label system. It would show both a single portion size calorie count as well as a calorie count for the container. For instance, if you buy a pint of ice cream, you could see the number of calories you would consume if you have a single serving or if you ate the entire pint.
When the labels were first introduced, for instance, a pint of ice cream was considered to be about four servings and each serving was about 200 calories. Under the new guidelines, which are intended to reflect something closer to what people really eat, a pint of ice cream would be designated as two servings and each serving would be 400 calories.
Given this example, it is easy to see why obesity is such a problem in this country.
The final change is a new design which is intended to give people better access to the information they actually need. Whether or not the new design will help depends in large part on whether or not people will actually read and understand the information.