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

Homemade Date Paste: A Healthy, Natural Fruit Sweetener

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As a dietitian, I try to keep my consumption of added sugars as low as possible. And I’m not just talking about table sugar here. I’m talking about brown sugar, agave, maple syrup, and yes, even honey. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for adult women, and no more than 9 teaspoons for adult men. If you are looking to keep added sugars to a minimum, dates and mashed bananas become your best friend.

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First, a little primer on dates. Dates are kind of like giant raisins, but much more sticky and much more sweet. They are about 20 calories each. I usually buy pitted medjool dates in the bulk section at whole foods (surprise, surprise). However, on a particularly desperate grocery outing,  I was able to find dates at the little international market next to my apartment building. Score!

Some of my favorite recipes call for chopped dates as a sweetener, but because the dates are chopped, I find that the sweetness doesn’t distribute evenly throughout the final product. This leaves me with unsweetened food with chunks of date… not quite what I was looking for. Plus, who wants to meticulously chop up a sticky fruit every morning? Not me! Which brings me to date paste.

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Date paste is a simple idea really. Just soak dates overnight, blend the softened dates (I used a knock off Magic Bullet) with a bit of the soaking water, and voila… you have a sweetener that distributes much more evenly throughout. (For a more descriptive recipe, see here).

I usually substitute 1 tablespoon of date paste for every teaspoon of table sugar that I would have used. I mostly only use date paste in my morning oatmeal, but it also works great to sweeten muffins and other treats. 1 tablespoon of date paste has approximately 25 calories, 6g sugar, and 0.5g fiber. Compare that to the 16 calories, 4g of sugar, and 0g fiber in only 1 teaspoon of table sugar. Not bad!

Have you made date paste? What are your favorite healthy sweeteners?

– Kelly