Information Versus TMI (too much information): The Proposed Nutrition Facts Label – Part I

The ingredient and nutrition information on food product labels has evolved over the years. In 1990 the Nutrition Facts label was created and food manufacturers had to comply with this new labeling system that identified calories, serving sizes, vitamins and minerals, carbohydrate, protein, and some additional specifics in regard to fat in the food. I remember at that time having to spend a lot of time with my patients – explaining the information on the label and helping them understand the differences between total fat, saturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Fast forward 24 years and we are revising this food labeling system. Thinking back to the 1980s and 1990s, our attempt to highlight fat on labels, in order to help people reduce the fat in their diets, backfired, as food portions became larger, and new calorie-laden, fat-modified foods were created which saturated the market. In the end, we ended up a more obese population.

Yet the FDA claims that this new label will allow ‘greater understanding of nutrition science’.

Hmmn? Unless you want to read a lot of scientific journals and textbooks, the food label itself is not going to provide you with a greater understanding of nutrition science. One on one education from a registered dietitian could provide that, more instruction in elementary and secondary schools could provide that, but a nutrition label will not.

As the opening statement in this CNN story reads: “Choosing healthier foods in the grocery store may soon be a little easier.”

Really? Will the learning curve and a new food label make your grocery shopping easier promising you a healthier diet?

News flash: I can offer you three easy steps to choosing a healthier diet:

1.    Buy and eat more whole foods – foods that are-what-they-are – fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, fresh meats, beans, fresh fish, milk, oats, rice, barley and other natural grains.

2.    Choose some slightly processed foods to round out life – pasta, whole grain bread (but not too much), and wholesome dairy foods like yogurt, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and other cheeses. Fruit juice, canned or frozen fruits or vegetables.

3.    Choose desserts, candy, sugary drinks, drink mixes, alcohol, chips, crackers, and other snack foods in moderation (as in ≤1 serving daily with occasional splurges on weekends, holidays or birthdays)

Real food is what should fill your kitchen and pantry and body, but you can also make room for some treats too – cookies, donuts, soda, juice, chips or crackers and packaged food for occasional convenience.

A new food label is not going to help America choose healthier foods. Packaged foods have been labeled for years, and it hasn’t helped reduce obesity or disease, which are in fact both increasing.


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