Food Label Makeover — Fat is In, Sugar is Out, and Calories Take Center Stage

Although not approved yet, the Federal Drug and Food Administration is working on changing our food labels for the first time in 20 years.  It will be a long process (2 years or more) before we would see all of the changes, but I think we are moving in the right direction.  Two proposals suggest the calorie count for one serving be much more boldly listed on the label.  Unfortunately, they are still going to make you do the math.  Most packaged items have more than one serving size so you will have to multiply the calorie count times the servings to know how many calories you are getting in a package.  And, knowing the amount of calories in a package or product helps the consumer (you and me) make mindful and conscious choices about our health.

Not too long ago I walked into a salad and sandwich shop that lists the calories on their menu.  I usually don’t pay that much attention to them and just order what I want.  But, that day I wasn’t really sure what I wanted so I asked the cashiers what they thought was their best sandwich.  Their eyes lit up as they told me it was the super-duper, extra cheese, all-the-works turkey sandwich.  Hmmm… I thought a turkey sandwich sounded good, but an alarm went off inside of me about all of the extras.  “Did I really want all of that?” I asked myself.   Then I saw the calorie count which was almost 1,000 calories.  I briefly scanned the menu and found a turkey sandwich on wheat bread that was only 450 calories.  I ordered that one and was perfectly satisfied.

Calories do make a difference. And, if you can be satisfied without all of the extras, why get them? Here’s an interesting video that shows what 200 calories looks like in different foods.  It’s short and worth a look.

Another change that may be made to labels include making food corporations list the amount of “added sugar” (sugar not naturally found in the food), but food companies are strongly objecting to this one.  “Now why would food companies be so against this?” you might ask. They wouldn’t probably say this, but it’s because the extra added sugar is how they hook you on their food.

And, lastly, there will be a reduced emphasis on the amount of fat.  Research is beginning to show the benefits of consuming fat and the low-fat/no-fat fad is beginning to wane (if only slightly).  A new study from Sweden actually shows that a “high intake of dairy fat was associated with a lower risk of central obesity.”  The message that “fat is good for you” will take some time to be consumed by the masses because the food companies have done such a good job of demonizing it.  Of course, there are “good fats” (like my favorite–olive oil, avocados, and nuts) and “bad fats” (like trans fat found in a lot of processed food, stick margarine, candy bars, and fried foods).

As usual, we are behind other European countries in changing our labels to be more consumer friendly, but at least we are starting the discussion.  And, thanks to Michelle Obama for her work in helping this move forward.  She has worked on the issues surrounding obesity, particularly in children, since she was at the White House.

NOTE:  Despite these food label changes, I suggest you eat as much food as possible that isn’t packaged because, quite simply, it will be better for you and taste better.  However, if you do buy packaged food, you should know what you’re getting.