TLR's Nutrition Panel Update

September 16, 2011

The FDA is discussing a nutrition facts panel update. What should it include? Here are TLR's suggestions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is revising the nutrition facts label, the breakdown of the macronutrients, micronutrients and other components on food packaging. The goal? To give consumers a more comprehensive, easy to understand label, so they can better battle the bulge.

So what is the FDA proposing to do? The agency would like to include more accurate serving sizes, a greater emphasis on calories and a diminished role in the daily percent values for substances like fat, sodium and carbohydrates. The FDA has been discussing a change since 2003 and is likely to reveal the changes within the year.  

According to the AP, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor cautions not to expect a grand overhaul, but the revamped label does mark a shift to create a more useful nutritional snapshot of foods millions of Americans consume every day. The revised label is likely to produce several changes, said Taylor. For starters, portion sizes should better reflect reality. The 2.5 servings listed on a 20-ounce soda bottle are typically slurped up by an individual in one sitting rather than split between a couple and their child. The same goes for a can of soup, where one serving is often listed as two-fifths of a can.

The University of California, Berkeley and Good Magazine recently had a contest to develop ways to improve the label. Of course, the familiar traffic light colors were used to indicate whether a food is good or bad. Another offered thumbs up and thumbs down on nutrients depending on weight per serving. The winning design, created by Renee Walker, included a label topped by large blocks of color above the nutrient listing with each block representing an ingredient.
Here are some of The Lempert Report's Suggestions

Clear allergy labeling
Six to eight percent of kids and around four percent of adults suffer from some sort of allergy or food intolerance. Although manufacturers are required by law to declare the presence of the eight major allergens, there are still flaws. For example, the labels that state a product was processed in a facility with X allergen. Can consumers really trust that?
Sugar, added vs. natural
Nutrition Facts state the amount of total sugars per serving but do not indicate whether the sugars are added, occur naturally, or are a combination of the two. Sugars are sugars (i.e., sugar, corn syrup, HFCS or honey) once it enters the body in terms of its caloric significance. But whether it's naturally occurring or added is the actual game changer. The effect of consuming foods with naturally occurring sugars like fruit, vegetables, milk and grain products, is very different than added sugars, because sugars occurring in their natural state come packaged with the added benefits of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals that whole foods provide. Sometimes added sugars are empty calories and have no benefit to our health. Nutrition facts should distinguish between the two.   
Zero plus zero should equal zero

Since when did zero trans fats plus zero trans fats not equal zero? Products containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats or other fats, or a whole host of other nutrients per serving are legally allowed to report that the product contains zero. But what happens when you eat more than one serving (like many people do)? The industry claims that these 'free' and zero claims are allowed when a food is free of a nutrient or if the amount is so small, and thus considered 'dietetically trivial or physiologically insignificant.' The amount is also believed to be physiologically insignificant even if a person eats several servings. Either reformulate or let consumers know what they are really eating.

Ingredients, real ingredients please
Consumers need not be duped by long ingredient lists in which they are not even able to understand half of what's in their foods.  Consumers should be able to define each component of their foods. Maybe the solution is to use less ingredients or to disclose which ingredients are preservatives, coloring agents and flavoring agents. The abundance of these in our food supply might just get consumers to eat healthier when they realize that their food is not actually food!
Would you like some caffeine with that?

There are various products, aside from coffee, colas, energy drinks or teas, that do in fact contain caffeine. There are many people who try to avoid the jolting foods, but as a consumer, these foods or beverages are almost impossible to identify. What about those double chocolate fudge brownies or those chocolate mocha chip cookies? If consumers knew how much caffeine was in the foods they were eating, they might restrict intake to certain times of the day as not to affect their mood or disrupt sleep habits. Caffeine labeling should be mandatory for all foods and beverages.
Overall, the idea is to cut the confusion and make it simple for consumers to choose foods that are appropriate for their dietary needs and health desires. Let's hope the FDA keeps it simple as they overhaul the Nutrition Facts panel.