Are nutrition labels headed for an extreme makeover?

nutrition labelFor many parents, the cereal aisle has become a maze of mythic proportions. “Trying to make sense of nutrition labels to make healthy choices for your children is really hard,” confirms Alison Field, ScD, from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine.

Cereal serving-size labels are based on weight, so a serving of a healthier choice like Cheerios is much larger than granola, which may be a less healthful option.  Another case in point: Have you ever tried to understand the caloric and fat intake from a bag of popcorn?

Another challenge that parents face is that the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current Nutrition Facts label is based on information about food consumption gathered during national surveys between 1978 and 1988, when the average American ate less.

On Feb. 27, the FDA proposed an update to its Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food. “It’s really going to make a big difference,” predicts Field. The proposed changes do away with the unrealistic serving sizes, such as one-quarter cup of cereal or 10 potato chips, which confound shoppers in the U.S.

What’s different?  Why?
Large and more realistic serving sizes Consumers will have a much better understanding of how many calories they consume.
Inclusion of  the amount of added sugar The change should increase awareness about the amount of sugar added to foods from ketchup to salad dressing.
Inclusion of potassium and vitamin D information Deficiencies in both nutrients can place people at higher risk for chronic disease. People can increase their intake to better meet their needs.
Removal of “calories from fat” The type of fat—saturated, trans fat—is more important than the amount.


Can labeling changes make a difference?

Field thinks so. Research has suggested that individual serving-size containers help people control portion size and consumption. Having more accurate information on the label that educates eaters on portion size may offer an interim step that helps them put the brakes on overeating.