Why I love the new food label

Food labels have been long overdue for a make-over. After years of pressure from consumer advocacy groups and health experts, the FDA finally released a proposed new food label. *slow clap*

New Food Label

Why do I love it?

  • Added sugars! While the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 6 tsp/day for women and 9 tsp/day for men, there was no way to know how much you were getting because added sugars weren’t required to be on labels.
  • Fiber gets redefined: If approved, the “fiber” on a label will reflect only the the intact, unprocessed fiber in whole foods, and exclude purified fibers such as maltodextrin and inulin (which are added to processed foods).
  • Vitamin D and potassium: Requiring these two nutrients (in place of Vitamins A & C) is much more relevant to the health needs of today’s population.
  • No more serving size trickery. Have you ever been able to get 4 servings out of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s? I didn’t think so. On the new label, serving sizes for many foods have been updated to reflect more realistic (in other words, larger) portion sizes.
  • And most importantly, it’s easier to read! With this new design, your eyes are drawn towards the important information. The calorie count jumps out at you and the % Daily Value of Nutrients is much easier to trace.

There is also an alternate proposal, which I like very much. It is even clearer about which nutrients are beneficial (“get enough”) and which ones we need to limit (“avoid too much”). See below:

Alternate Proposed Food Label

These proposals are scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on March 3.  After that, the FDA will collect comments for 90 days. To read the reports detailing the proposed rules and changes, see this FDA webpage. First Lady Michelle Obama has been instrumental in getting this legislation approved, and in record time! This is basically the food industry’s worst nightmare, so expect a carefully strategized counterattack during the comment period.

Score one for public health and food policy!

– Kelly

First hurdle: Trans fats. Next project: Palm oil

Trans fats have been long demonized, and have already been largely removed from food products. Nevertheless, there are still a few products, such as Bisquick, that will need to reformulate after the FDA’s recent decision to pull trans fats from the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list.

c_c_Caramel delites_3qrtr

Some Girl Scout Cookies, including Caramel deLites, contain both partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) AND palm oil

Currently, products can claim to have “0g trans fats” as long as there is less than 0.5g trans fats per serving. To determine if a product is trans fat free, you need to check the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated oils”.

One ingredient that food manufacturers are replacing trans fats with is palm oil. This is problematic for two reasons. 1) While not as dangerous as trans fat, palm oil is largely saturated fat, the type of fat that is believed to raise LDL cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. 2) Mining of palm oil causes massive rainforest destruction, and is the reason that orangutans may become extinct in our lifetime.

Interested in learning more?

  • To read more about the ban on trans fats, see this article
  • To see a list of products that still contain trans fats, see this list
  • To learn more about how palm oil is affecting wildlife, see here

orangutan

Rainforest destruction for palm oil plantations is causing orangutans to become extinct

Moral of the story: If you don’t have to stir your peanut butter, something’s not right. Avoid foods with added fats (including both partially hydrogenated oils AND palm oil), and make an effort to eat home cooked meals rather than relying on processed snack foods.

– Kelly