Increasing numbers of Americans rely on the nutrition facts label on food packages to make their dietary decisions. According to a recent survey from the USDA, 42 percent of working adults look at the nutrition facts often or always, with older adults relying on the labels more than younger adults.
However, the nutrition facts label currently used on food packages in the U.S. food labels was designed and implemented in the early 1990s, and hasn’t had a major update since. Nutrition science hasn’t stood still — our knowledge of proper nutrition has evolved greatly over the past 20 years. The FDA wants to update the Nutrition facts label to reflect what experts now know about nutrition and to make the labels easier to read.
Changes in Fats Labeling
A key problem with the current nutrition facts label is that it reflects outdated wisdom about the role of fats in the diet. Twenty years ago, when the label was first developed, nutritionists believed that all kinds of fats were bad for your diet. Today, it’s known that some fats are healthier than others — your body actually needs unsaturated fats in moderation.
Nutritionists now advise consumers to steer clear of trans fats and saturated fats while consuming moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and the new nutrition labels should reflect that, the FDA says. The FDA already requires labels to list quantities of saturated and trans fats separately. The new label may remove the “calories from fat” designation, which the FDA doesn’t believe is necessary.
No More Metric Confusion
Another problem is that our current nutrition facts label lists nutrient quantities in grams. Grams are the basic unit of the metric system; most Americans don’t understand the metric system and can’t visualize a gram. The new labels will replace this unit of measurement with one that most people can understand easily, like a teaspoon — most Americans can picture a teaspoon of something with no trouble.
Calorie Counts to Be More Prominent
Another proposed change to the label should make calorie counts more prominent, so that consumers can more easily recognize calorie-dense foods. Experts hope that the FDA will pass guidelines for package-front labeling for calorie counts and key nutrients. The FDA has expressed interest in creating guidelines for package-front labels in the past, but has held off in order to give food industry leaders a chance to take the initiative on package-front nutrition labels.
Serving Sizes Could Soon Make Sense
As you’ll learn if you go to school to study nutrition, illogical serving sizes are the bane of many a health-conscious diner. Manufacturers muddy the waters regarding calorie density and nutrient contents of some foods by listing multiple servings on the nutrition facts labels of packages that are clearly meant to be single-serving, like small bottles of juice or personal bags of chips. The new labels could include an additional column clarifying nutrition information per container. The FDA might also make the decision to change the serving sizes of some foods to more closely reflect realistic eating habits.
Whole Wheat Percentage Could Be Specified
It’s come to the attention of the FDA that many food manufacturers are adding negligible amounts of whole wheat to foods so that they can get away with labeling those foods “whole wheat.” The new labels could require manufacturers to designate the exact percentage of whole wheat thusly labeled foods contain.
Experts Hope for Transparency Regarding Added Sugars
Though it’s not yet known what other changes the FDA may be considering, experts hope that one of them will be additional transparency regarding added sugars and sweeteners in foods. The current labels don’t indicate how much of a particular food’s sugar content is naturally occurring in that food, and how much of it was added by the manufacturer. It could be difficult to decide how many added sugars some foods contain, since manufacturers often add naturally occurring sugars to food products in order to claim the “natural” designation.
The FDA has sent its new food label guidelines to the White House, but it’s not yet known when they will be released or when the labels will actually be changed. Nevertheless, the news that the FDA will soon be making nutrition facts labels on food more transparent and easier to use can be nothing short of encouraging to Americans who care about eating a healthy diet.