What the new nutrition labels should have

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The news is out that the Food and Drug Administration is planning to review and remodel the nutrition labels that are on food packages.

There’s no definitive word on what those changes will mean, and a lot of health experts and dietitians are expected to weigh in on what they think should happen. Here are a few of the things I think would be good:

  • More clear-cut explanation of how much sugar is in a food. Right now the sugar is denoted in grams, but as local dietitian David Grotto said in a Facebook post, “Most Americans, who were not entrenched in the metric system, don’t have a clue what a “gram” of anything looks like.” Maybe it should show the number of teaspoons, as a number of people have suggested. Most people know what a teaspoon looks like. This might discourage food manufacturers with loaded up our foods with sugar, too. 
  • Make it clear what wheat is. I stopped on my way in to work to read packages on foods with wheat. Boy, are they confusing. Enriched, whole, the word wheat inside a parenthesis, outside of it. What does that all mean to the average shopper? At that point most of us are just guessing, going with the packaging we think looks like it’s the healthiest. Clear up the confusion.
  • Change in how calories are displayed. A lot of the experts want the calories displayed more prominently. But I think it’s also really important with any of the foods you are most likely to eat all in one sitting to no longer be able to say an 8 ounce serving of XYZ energy drink is 100 calories, but the bottle is 2.5 servings so what you really have there is 250 calories. This practice is really sneaky. I’ll never forget the small package of flavored popcorn someone at work was raving about and when I looked at the label we discovered that little bag (really, barely a bowl) was being counted as 8 servings!
  • Vindicate fat. Pay attention to what is being said in fat in all of this. Too many people I know reject foods solely on the percentage of fat in them. But now, as Gary Taubes, Dr. Robert Lustig and a growing chorus of other experts are saying, it’s not all fat that is the enemy and the science that that pronouncement was based on turned out to be shaky. The trans fats? Oh yes, they are harmful, but too many Americans have become fat phobic largely because of these labels. Personally I have found that a reasonable amount of fat is much better than the boat load of sugar too many food products have. (Read Taubes’ Why We Get Fat and/or Lustig’s Fat Chance and I will be shocked if you don’t come away seeing fat is not the enemy we were all made to believe.)

— Sue Ontiveros

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