Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Revisions to the Nutrition Facts Panel

The Nutrition Facts panels on foods may be getting a facelift this year.  The FDA is apparently working on changing and improving the rules that govern how foods and beverages are labeled on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Many consumers struggle with understanding how to read food labels and whether one thing is more important than another.  Others do not realize a whole container may not necessarily be a “serving size”.  Some do not even read food labels.

Regardless, it is clear consumers continue to be confused by nutrition information.  Unfortunately, too, when scientific findings reveal new information on how to stay healthy, many consumers and marketing campaigns jump on the bandwagon of drastic diet changes to try to “supposedly” improve health outcomes. 

As a dietitian, I always try to encourage balance, variety and moderation.  Extremes are not my thing.  While change is normal, needed and can be expected, hopefully, consumers will take any changes to the Nutrition Facts panel in stride and use the changes to further improve health outcomes rather than threaten them.

One change “a buzz” for labels is the determination of serving size.  Each company currently can decide what they want a serving of their products to contain.  Whether it is a large grab-bag of chips, one cookie or half a soda bottle, the choice is up to the company.  While I certainly have rarely seen a labeled serving size that seems inappropriately small, there are certainly ones that seem much too large.  Others would disagree that companies brand serving sizes as too small, in order to make a product appear more healthy or that you would get more servings for your money.

No matter, it seems consumers would benefit from clearer statements as to how much each individual container of food contains – be it calories, fat, you name it.  That means if it is a “family size” skillet meal, some health advocates would suggest the brand actually label the package with the total calories, etc. of the whole bag, rather than just the calories, etc. for 1/4 of the bag.

And, perhaps it would be more revealing to show that a certain bagged family skillet meal contains, for example, 2000 calories if you eat the whole thing.  On the other hand,  the bag did say, “family size” didn’t it?

Even if the food labels change, rest assured your own personal dietary needs are reasonably constant.  While health states, life stage and activity level may change, it will always be a good goal to seek healthful portions of healthful foods most or all of the time.

Work with a dietitian or educate yourself through sources such as www.eatright.org (The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) to help better understand your personal health needs.  Read the ingredients label to know what is in the food you are eating.  Learn how to read whatever food label is on the package.  From there, it is easy to roll with the changes food companies and government agencies present to us.  

Through it all, hopefully the health of our nation will improve.



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