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Quinn on Nutrition: Calories, serving size get more weight on nutrition labels

June 13, 2016


Finally, itís finalized. For the first time in more than 20 years, the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods has been revised. Why? To reflect new scientific information, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ó the agency responsible for the safety and proper labeling of foods sold in the United States.

More specifically, says the FDA, the new label addresses what we now know about nutritionís effect on chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity. (Yes, obesity is considered a chronic disease ó a persistent condition that can be controlled but usually not cured).

One sad statistic: About half the adults in America are plagued by at least one chronic disease related to poor food choices and lack of physical activity. The FDA hopes the new food label will help us make better decisions:

Short of yelling out, "Pay attention to this!" the new label highlights "Calories" and "Serving Size" in bold letters. And serving sizes are now based on what we actually eat, not on what we should eat. For example, a serving of ice cream is now 2/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup, which is still probably less than what most of us actually eat but who asked me?

"Calories from fat" will no longer be on the label. Why? Because we now know the type of fat we eat is more important to our health than the total amount.

"Added sugars" ó sugars added during the production of food ó will be added to the label both in grams and by the "Percent Daily Value" which will be defined on the label: "The percent Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice."

Sugar is not necessarily bad for us; itís the main source of energy in fruit, vegetables and milk. But too much added sugar, especially in sweetened foods and beverages, packs on extra calories with no nutritional benefit. And this can be a health detriment, say experts.

A can of regular soda, for example, contains 39 grams (about 10 teaspoons) of added sugar or about 150 calories. Thatís about 8 percent of a personís total calories for a day (Daily Value) in the form of added sugars. Our goal is not to exceed 10 percent.

Since most of us still donít understand Percent Daily Value, important nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium will be listed in actual amounts. For example, instead of showing that 1 cup of milk provides 30 percent of my Daily Value for calcium, the label will now indicated that 1 cup of milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium (30 percent of what I need in a day).

Expect to see the new food label in full force by July 26, 2018, says the FDA. Will it help us make better choices? Time will tell.

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