The FDA is proposing long-awaited changes to the nutrition labels on the back of food packaging with hopes of clearing up common misconceptions. The current food labels have been in existence for the past 20 years. Not only have the nutritional facts become outdated, but the labels are confusing for many.
Though consumers are paying more attention to what they eat and show more concern over consuming too many refined sugars and saturated fats, they still have trouble making sense out of the two dozen numbers listed on the back of the food packages. It’s common to see people studying food labels throughout the aisles of the grocery store. It’s difficult to know whether a product is healthy or not and how much of each ingredient the food actually contains.
A Health and Diet Survey that the FDA conducted in 2008 involved a phone survey to see how many Americans use food label. Of the 2,500 participants, 38 percent use the catchy front-of-package claims like “all natural,” “cholesterol free” and “high fiber” when choosing food products. Trusting such claims is easier than actually reading and deciphering the label on the back. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t regular these claims and they can be misleading.
The only change that’s been made to the nutrition labels since they first appeared in 1993 occurred in 2006 with the addition of a line to include trans fats. The addition was in response to the number of trans fats that people were unknowingly consuming, especially once it became common knowledge how dangerous trans fats are. Further updates need to be made to bring the food labels current across the board.
Changes to the nutrition labels are expected to appear in a FDA proposal in March. The main purpose of the update is to clear up misunderstandings and help consumers know exactly what they are eating and how much.
One major change that is anticipated is to make the calories more prominent. They will be shown in a larger font and the calories from fat section will be dropped from the informational panel. Providing clear serving sizes is another issue that is to be addressed. Manufacturers will also be required to share the amount of added sugar and the percentage of whole wheat in each product. It’s possible that the FDA will add the teaspoons of sugar per serving in addition to the grams, as most people aren’t entirely sure what grams of sugar look like.
Food labels will reflect recent changes in dietary guidelines as well. This includes changes in saturated and non-saturated fat, as well as a decrease in the daily recommendation for sodium.
New regulations proposed by the FDA are expected to clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding nutrition labels and the changes should help people make smarter food choices. A more user-friendly panel is long overdue. The new guidelines are needed to provide nutritional information in an easy to read format with updated and more relevant details. Those who are watching their weight, have diabetes, allergies or other food restrictions may have an easier time following their diet with the new labels.
By Tracy Rose
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services