by Lisa Avellino
Fitness Director, NY Health and Wellness
Why was the FDA Nutrition Facts Label changed? One would assume it was to educate and raise awareness, and to simplify tricky language and confusing numbers. It’s unfortunate that we have come so far in technology, yet in the area of nutrition, we are often mystified and overwhelmed by labeling and ingredient names.
The fact remains that America is in an obesity crisis, and is one of the fattest countries in the world. Weight gain and obesity result from an energy imbalance. The body needs a certain amount of energy (calories) from food to keep up basic life functions. Body weight tends to remain the same when the number of calories eaten equals the number of calories the body uses or “burns.” Over time, when people eat and drink more calories than they burn, the energy balance tips toward weight gain and obesity.
Many factors can lead to energy imbalance, including imbalanced hormones (grehlin, leptin and cortisol), genetic disposition, eating habits, geography, lifestyle, and income. Another significant factor is lack of education about healthy nutrition choices, which circles back to the new FDA Nutrition Facts Label. Here are my thoughts.
The larger print showing gross calories and specifics to added sugars is a necessary update. However, I do not agree with the increase in portion size. Some serving sizes will increase and others will decrease, because by law, serving sizes must be based on the amount of food and drink that people typically consume, not on how much they should consume.
Recent food consumption data indicates that some serving sizes needed to be revised. For example, the reference amount for a serving of ice cream has been increased from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup. The reference amount used for a serving size of soda was previously 8 ounces and is now revised to 12 ounces. The reference amount for yogurt is decreasing from 8 ounces to 6 ounces. Nutrient information on the new label will be based on these updated serving sizes to conform with what people actually consume.
The problem with increasing serving size is that it may actually encourage individuals––of ideal weight or otherwise––to consume more. Most people believe that they are protected by the FDA and labeling laws, when in reality, we must take responsibility to be our own health advocate. If we were truly protected by the FDA, tobacco products and e-cigarettes would be illegal.
Summa summarum, the FDA’s intention was to simplify and educate. However, let’s imagine what the next label upgrade might include: percentage of chemicals, natural sea salt or synthetic, hormone disruptors, glycemic index, processed or raw ratio, lab tested, recommended for heart or diabetic patients, and this is just the short list.
And personally, I would like to see this warning on all relevant foods: Ingesting this product may lead to tight jeans, obesity, or even shorten your life.