Let's Talk Sugar: Understanding Nutrition Label Changes
With the proposed changes to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) nutrition label, a quick look will provide the answers.
Under the proposed* new nutrition facts label for packaged goods, which takes into consideration the latest scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease, there will be several visible changes:
- More information about the amount of “added sugars” in a food product.
- Calorie counts will be bigger and bolder.
- Serving sizes will reflect the way most of us eat (who eats just ½ cup of ice cream?!).
- Dual column labels to indicate “per serving” and “per package.”
- The amount of potassium and vitamin D will be required.
- Revisions in the daily values for a variety of nutrients, including sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D.
- While still requiring “total fat,” “saturated fat” and “trans fat” on the label, “calories from fat” would be removed to reflect good fats vs. bad fats
While one could argue that the best way to make healthy food choices is to consume products like fresh fruits and vegetables that don’t require a nutrition label, the new label does address one of the most important public health problems facing our nation: childhood obesity. As a funder and supporter of programs across New England for the past seven years that help prevent childhood obesity, establishing healthy behaviors at a young age is certainly one way to fight obesity and its resulting health issues. What I am encouraged by most with this proposed label is that not only will it drive attention to proper serving sizes and associated calories, but it will also provide more information about added sugars.
There is solid evidence linking excessive sugar consumption to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. This added sugar listing on the label is designed to help consumers identify the difference between the sugar that occurs naturally in a piece of fruit, for example, and the refined sugars that are added to so many products on today’s shelves. Nutritionists across the country believe this will be helpful in encouraging us to consume less of it.
Looking at a food label with your kids is a great way to start the conversation about what is in the food they eat and a first step in encouraging healthy choices.
In the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, “as a parent you should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family.”
I couldn’t agree more.
* FDA proposed these changes on 2/27/14 and is accepting public comment on the proposed changes for 90 days.
MyPlate is a visual image that works well in talking about proper nutrition with kids. It’s easy for them to understand that their plates should have one of each of the five food groups, fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Check out some great games and activities on the website. choosemyplate.gov/kids/
Another great resource is Chop Chop magazine. chopchopmag.org/ ChopChop is filled with nutritious, great-tasting, ethnically diverse, and inexpensive recipes. It also has fun food facts, games and puzzles, and interviews with healthy heroes.
About The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation
Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim's mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. In 2013, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded more than $2.8 million in grants to nearly 650 nonprofit organizations throughout New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.
This past year, a total of $1.5 million in grants was distributed to the Foundation’s Growing Up Healthy initiatives in the region, primarily for programs that promote nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity to help prevent childhood obesity. Close to 8 % of children in the region, ages 6-12 years, as well as 152 pediatric practices and providers, are involved in activities funded by the Foundation’s Growing Up Healthy initiatives. Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has granted more than $130 million in funds throughout the three states. For more information, please visit harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.