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When it comes to nutrition and knowing what to put into your body each day, knowledge is everything. Misconceptions about what is good and bad for your daily health have been popping up for decades. Just as recently as the 1960s there were advertisements that hyped sugar as being a natural, fat-free energy booster. While our understanding of certain ingredients has changed over time, many people still struggle over eating healthily and know the true consequences of what they eat.
Nutrition labels are thought of as the great equalizer that can illuminate and educate consumers on food products. However, they have also been a hot-button issue between food companies, consumers, health experts, and the FDA for years; the main argument being that some labels may mislead people about the true nutritional value of an item. To rectify this, the FDA is proposing some new changes to help further clarify the real nutritional content of foods and beverages.
Among the most important potential changes have to do with the tricky way some companies quantify sugar content. Under the new proposed rules, labels would have to include the daily percentage value of total sugar as they have done for other ingredients like fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. The amounts would have to be listed from highest percentage content to lowest.
With some products, the types of sugar—such as high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, etc.—would need to be listed individually. The new label guidelines also require that the sugar content, regardless of what ingredients it’s from, be totaled to give you a better idea of how much sugar can actually dominate a particular product.
Another important change that could immediately help a consumer identify unhealthy ingredients has to do with how the label is designed. If a product contains more than 20% of the daily recommended value of saturated fats or sugar, they would be listed in red and have the word “high” next to the percent value, so you will be able to clearly spot them when looking at the label.
The list of ingredients themselves would be separated by a bolded dot instead of a comma, making it easier to read. Major ingredients will be listed by their weighted percent of the product, while minor ingredients—defined as anything which makes up less than 2% of your daily value—would be listed separately, along with potential allergens at the bottom of the label. With the recent banning of trans-fats, they will no longer need to be included or listed at 0%. Lastly, if a product contains any caffeine, it will also need to be disclosed.
In 2013, Congress passed the Food Labeling Modernization Act that instructed the FDA to update food labels with several changes, such as requiring food companies to use realistic serving sizes and prominently label the total calories per serving.
Adding the percent daily value for sugar was another requirement of the FDA in that law. Now, the FDA is issuing the formal proposal for these changes. In the next 75 days, they will continue to seek public comments. After that, a final ruling will be made on all potential changes. The FDA already has the support of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which released a comment stating, “Modernization of nutrition and health information on food labels is an essential weapon in the fight against obesity” and diet-related conditions.
Knowledge can empower everyone to make better choices, providing that full disclosure is given so that people can make well-informed decisions. The proposed FDA label changes are taking the right step towards creating a trickle-down effect of better living, one label at a time.