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More on the New Nutrition Labels


Nutrition LabelNutrition Label

The White House and FDA have just released their guidance to revise the ubiquitous Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts panels, some of which we commend.

Good:

  • Added sugars revealed. Added sugars are any sugars (sucrose, fructose, etc.) added during processing. So while the sugar found in an apple would be considered naturally occurring, agave—a sweetener isolated from cactus—added to another product would be considered an added sugar. It will be listed as a subsection of total sugars, though expect a big fight from Big Food on this particular item.
  • More nutrient disclosures. The panels will now indicate how much vitamin D and potassium are in foods (calcium and iron will continue to be listed). Listing both vitamin D and potassium on the panel will help underscore their importance.
  • Actual nutrient amounts will be listed, instead of just Daily Values (Daily Values refers to how much of a nutrient the FDA recommends for the average adult). Since the FDA’s DVs are based on extremely low recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, they can be misleading; listing actual nutrient amounts will provide consumers with more useful information. This change will apply to dietary supplement labels, too.
  • Calories will be in larger and bolder type.
  • “Calories from fat” will no longer be listed. This is good, because it recognizes that all fats aren’t created equal, and shouldn’t be lumped together.

Neither good nor bad:

  • More realistic serving sizes. America’s portion sizes have ballooned so much in the past few decades that serving sizes will be adjusted. For example, the current serving size on a pint of ice cream is currently only ½ cup; this will be adjusted to 1 cup.

Bad:

  • Under the new rules, sugar alcohols don’t have to be disclosed under “added sugars,” unless the food is making a “sugar free” claim. This is a slight improvement over the old rules, where foods labeled “sugar free” could contain sugar alcohols without listing it on the nutrition panel. However, we’re concerned that the sugar alcohol “free pass” could become a big loophole for some artificial sweeteners devised by industry.
  • Nutrition panels aren’t currently permitted to list fluoride content. The FDA says it is considering whether that rule should be changed to allow voluntary listing, or whether there should be a mandatory listing whenever a claim about fluoride content is being made. Asfluoride is a dangerous neurotoxin, we believe all nutrition labels should reveal the amount of fluoride in foods.
  • The FDA agrees that we need more vitamin C and D, and that the DVs for those vitamins will be revised upwards. However, they will still be very low—for example, the DV of vitamin D will be 800 IU (20 mcg), when the optimum amount is at least 1,000 to 5,000 IU a day. It is ridiculous to recommend the same amount for a tiny infant and an obese adult. We need to tell the FDA to no longer follow the Institute of Medicine’s absurdly low one-size-fits-all recommendations.

Big Food is of course all over the proposed new labels. They claim that transitioning to the new labels could cost $2 billion (to put that into perspective: Nestlé alone makes $100 billion in annual profits). We also learned from the Washington state GMO labeling push that industry wildly overestimates how much labeling changes will cost. Food companies change their packaging all the time, and for most companies, adding a new nutrition label would happen during a normal package update.

Big Food prefers that the FDA leave the traditional nutrition facts panel as is, and instead let manufacturers implement voluntary, front-of-package labeling, including voluntary GMO labeling.

To generate public and congressional support for voluntary nutrition labeling, the industry-funded Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (the same group that appeared to illegally collect and spend $7 million on the Washington State GMO labeling initiative) has committed up to $50 million dollars to “Facts Up Front,” their campaign to promote voluntary front-of-package labeling.

Here’s what Big Food’s labeling would look like:

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Looks clear and reasonable, right? Except that it:

  • Doesn’t differentiate between added and naturally occurring sugars;
  • Provides no context for how much sugar people should be consuming; and
  • Continues to demonize saturated fat, even though saturated fat enhances the immune system and plays many other important functions.

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