National Nutrition Month guest blog post by Karen Sandusky, RDN
Believe it or not, the current Nutrition Facts Panel is more than twenty years old! Without a doubt, this very familiar illustration is in need of an information and design update. Some major changes have taken place over the past two decades that have pushed us toward this long overdue label renovation. What has happened over the past 20 years?
Our food buying behaviors have changed.
Consumers want food buying information they can use. We are busy, but we still want to feed our families healthfully. I’ve read that only a little more than half of U.S. adults actually cook foods on a given day. In order to “buy” time, we have come to rely at least in part on prepared, packaged, convenience, and ready-to-eat foods. Attempting to choose healthy meals and snacks running through the grocery store after work with two tired, hungry kids in tow is not an atypical scenario. And with roughly 700,000 food and beverage products that carry nutrition labels, that’s a lot of label reading and grocery store time! Some assistance would be welcome to make this process easier. Michelle Obama put it best when talking about the upcoming revised food label:
“Unless you had a thesaurus, a calculator and degree in nutrition, you were out of luck.” Ms. Obama continued, “Our guiding principle [for the new label] here is simple. You – as a parent and a consumer – should be able to walk into a grocery store, pick an item off the shelf and tell whether it’s good for your family.”
Our eating behaviors have changed.
The new label would also better address how our eating behaviors have changed. We all know what that means! Our portion sizes have increased dramatically over the years. The term “super-sizing” is what we have come to know as one of the culprits of the obesity epidemic. The proposed label aims to fix the portion size problem by:
- Reflecting more realistic amounts of food and beverages that people typically consume at one sitting. For example, ice cream serving size would go from ½ cup to 1 cup.
- Ensuring awareness of how many calories are being consumed in that stated amount (serving size). The proposal is that the number of calories per serving would be emphasized by going from an 8-point font to a bolded 24-point font, making it much easier to read when running through the grocery store!
We know more about how nutrition affects health and disease.
We have come a long way in our evidence-based (scientifically proven) knowledge about the relationship of nutrition to health and the development and management of chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc. The proposed label would take steps to better reflect that science. The Nutrition Panel is not meant to tell consumers what to eat, but to assist them in taking charge of their own health if they choose to do so. A recent study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 42% of working-age adults and 57% of older adults use the Nutrition Facts Panel “always or most the time.”
These are some more of the proposed changes that are intended to help those folks make choosing healthier foods easier:
- “Added Sugars” would be included on the label to help distinguish from natural sugars like those in fruit.
- “Calories from Fat” would be taken off. “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat” would remain.
- “Servings per package/container” would be more prominent; located at the top with bolder and bigger font.
- “Amount Per Serving” would have the actual serving size listed, such as “Amount per 2/3 cup”.
- “% Daily Values” would be updated for fiber and calcium.
- “%DV” would be shifted to the left for easier identification.
- Potassium and Vitamin D would both be added as a requirement (commonly deficient in American diet). Potassium helps prevent/manage high blood pressure and vitamin D is important for bone health. Labeling of Vitamins A and C would no longer be required as these vitamins are seldom found to be deficient in American diets.
When will we see these changes on store shelves?
Remember, these are proposed changes, not a done deal. Controversy is anticipated and expected. We know that food manufacturers who have to foot the bill and may be pushed to reformulate some of their products likely won’t be happy. The FDA proposes that the food industry be given two years to comply after the final ruling and publication of the new label. What’s your opinion? The FDA would like to hear it and is accepting comments for a 90-day period. To comment on the proposed label, visit www.regulation.gov.
The rewards of eating right are numerous. Ultimately, it isn’t the Nutrition Facts Panel or the FDA that makes our food choices. We are in charge of what goes into our grocery carts and into our bodies. Keep tuned in to the future of the new label and watch for consumer education programs when it is released, but please don’t wait until then to eat more healthfully!
Karen Sandusky is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. She has been “nourishing” her passion for adult nutrition as staff Dietitian for the past 20 years at United Home Health Services* in Canton, Michigan. Karen is a member of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Healthy Aging Practice Group; she is a Trained PATH (Personal Action Toward Health) Leader through the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan and is currently working on her Health Coach Certification with the National Society of Health Coaches. Karen is also a member of HHQI’s Home Health Cardiac Council (HHCC).
*United Home Health Services is a not-for -profit, Medicare Certified, CHAP accredited homecare agency that has been serving its community for over 30 years. United also offers caregiver, companion, and private duty services.