FDA proposes new guidelines for nutrition labels
Making healthy choices at the grocery store may soon get a bit easier. The FDA announced that it will focus on updating nutrition labels this year. The details have not been made public yet, but nutrition experts are hopeful that the new labels will be more straightforward.
“It’s time to update [labels] to make [them] easier for consumers to use,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
The Center’s “wish list” for label changes includes:
- Calories per serving should be more prominent
- Eliminated extraneous information
- Updated serving sizes
- Eliminating deceptive single-size servings and providing nutrition information for large single serving containers
- Differentiate between natural and added sugars and establish a Daily Value for added sugars
- Fiber content should only reflect intact fibers from whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit and other foods
We like the CSPI nutrition label proposals, but wouldn’t it be nice if we knew what pesticides are used on the foods we eat? The American Academy of Pediatrics, the President’s Cancer Panel, and physicians nationwide have publicly advised consumers, especially children and pregnant women, to reduce our dietary exposure to synthetic pesticides. For example, the synthetic pesticide DDT – banned in the United States since 1972 but still used as a pesticide in other countries – may increase the risk of Alzheimer ’s disease.
In a study recently published JAMA Neurology, Rutgers scientists discuss their findings in which levels of DDE, the chemical compound left when DDT breaks down, were higher in the blood of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients compared to those without the disease.
Although the levels of DDT and DDE have decreased significantly in the United States over the last three decades, the toxic pesticide is still found in 75 to 80 percent of the blood samples collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a national health and nutrition survey. This occurs, scientists say, because the chemical can take decades to breakdown in the environment. In addition, people may be exposed to the pesticide by consuming imported fruits, vegetables and grains where DDT is still being used and eating fish from contaminated waterways.
As more and more crops containing genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, make their way into the marketplace, there has been a rise in public sentiment to require GMO labeling.
Reuters reports, “The issue is hotly contested, with more than 20 states considering laws to mandate labeling of foods made with gene-altered corn, soybeans, sugar beets and other biotech crops. Currently, labeling of such foods is voluntary.”
If you want to avoid GMOs in your diet, look for foods labeled as “organic.” Federal law prohibits the use of genetic engineering prohibited in foods defined as organic. Nevertheless, these products may contain slight traces of genetically modified organisms in certain cases.
Knowledge is power
Please take the time to read the labels on foods you buy. Be wary of front labels claiming a product is “natural,” that it can reduce cholesterol, or provides other medical benefits.
“In a perfect world, agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission would be aggressively policing the marketplace and taking enforcement action against companies like these,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Until then, lawsuits by consumer groups and private citizens can play an important role by using the courts to get companies to change their labeling and advertising for the better.”
What information would YOU like to see on nutrition labels?
Post your suggestions in the comments section below.
“Fat, calories, sugar: Nutrition labels getting a makeover” by Jen Christensen, CNN, January 24, 2014.
“Food Labeling Chaos: The case for reform” by Bruce Silverglade and Ilene Ringel Heller, © 2010 by Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“DDT exposure more common in people with Alzheimer’s: study” by Genevra Pettman, Reuters Health, January 27, 2014.
“Organic food and farm groups ask Obama to require GMO food labels” by Carey Gillam, Reuters, January 16, 2014.