If you’re like many Americans, the current labels on your favorite foods might leave you stumped. From unrealistic serving sizes to what’s really inside, the current labeling system has caused many of us to give up tracking what we eat. And it shows—the U.S. faces an obesity epidemic that costs the medical industry an estimated $147 billion a year.
“Unless you had a thesaurus, a microscope, a calculator or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck,” First Lady Michelle Obama said at a recent White House event announcing the new labels. “So you felt defeated, and you just went back to buying the same stuff. As parents and as consumers, we have a right to understand what’s in the food we’re feeding our families.”
A lot has changed since food labels were introduced in 1993—including how much we eat in a sitting and what we know about the impact our food choices have on our health. “Obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases are leading public health problems,” Michael Landa, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says on the FDA site. “The proposed new label is intended to bring attention to calories and serving sizes, which are important in addressing these problems.”
What are the major changes?
• On a design level, you’ll see greater emphasis put on the amount of calories and the total serving size in the form of a bigger, bolder font. And amount per serving would have an actual serving size (e.g. 2/3 cup).
• Added sugars will now appear on the label. This is one of the biggest changes to the system, an attempt to bring more awareness to the of added sugars in an American’s daily intake.
• Another major change is a revision of what constitutes a serving size based on modern food consumption data. Have ever devoured a grab bag of Cool Ranch Doritos thinking 150 calories isn’t so bad only to discover it’s FOR 12 CHIPS? Me too. The new labels will put an end to misleading serving suggestions. (I’m looking at you Ben & Jerry.)
• Disappearing is the is the listing of fat from calories, reflecting a growing understanding that the type of fat is more important than the amount. Total, trans, and saturated fat breakdowns will still remain on the label.
• Daily values for various nutrients would also be updated, and potassium and Vitamin D would now be required.
When will we see the new labels?
Don’t expect food label changes overnight. The FDA mandate requires it hear public comments about the new labels for the next 90 days, after which there could be additional changes. Once the labels are finalized, the government could give food companies two years to update their packaging.
Click here for more information on the proposed label or to comment.