Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration released details of the proposed nutrition label makeover. Many experts have been weighing in on the new look, trying to determine if the changes will help consumers make better-informed decisions or simply add to widespread confusion about nutrition. Last month, The New England Journal of Medicine published two commentaries from health experts.
Added Sugars, Packaging Buzzwords
The first perspective was written by David A. Kessler, MD, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, author of The End of Overeating and a former FDA commissioner. Kessler believes that the FDA’s proposed changes could help nudge food buyers toward healthier decisions but argues that the new label does not go far enough.
Given that many consumers tend to munch on high-calorie, high-sugar foods at the expense of more nutritious options, Kessler supports the proposed change to distinguish “added sugars” from “total sugars.” In addition, he agrees that the serving size should reflect what a typical person would consume in one sitting — another of the suggested revisions.
But Kessler proposes taking sugar labeling one step further by listing a percent daily value (DV) for added sugars that would help consumers quickly determine if what they’re buying is high or low in such sweeteners.
In addition, the label’s focus on individual nutrients, rather than whole foods, Kessler says, is a potential shortcoming: “There is nothing in the new framework that actively encourages consumers to purchase food rich in the fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rightfully considered ‘real food,’” Kessler writes. Such emphasis gives food manufacturers incentive to fortify processed foods that may have little nutritional worth — such as sugary cereals — with an endless list of vitamins and minerals, in an effort to catch consumers’ eyes, and to make healthful-sounding claims along the lines of “high-fiber” or “low-fat.”