Sunday, August 2, 2015

Updating Processed Food Labels

The FDA has proposed updating the labels that describe the content and nutritional values of processed foods. The new labels will require that serving sizes more realistically describe how much of the food a person actually eats or drinks. In the past, manufacturers could list total calories on the basis of serving sizes as small as 1/2 cup of ice cream or just 8 oz of a soft drink, for example. On the new labels, 12-, 16-, and even 20-oz bottles of soft drinks will all all be called single servings, reflecting the amount a person who purchases these sizes typically consumes at a single sitting.

The FDA proposes that the new labels list "added sugars" - sugars not part of the food naturally, but added during food processing - as a subset of total sugar. Added sugars such as refined sugar and corn syrup are sometimes called empty calories because they have no nutritional value other than calories. Food producers love them because they're cheap ingredients and because they tempt us to buy more of the product. According to the FDA, over-consumption of empty calories is contributing to the current epidemic of obesity and increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Controversially, the FDA recommends that no more than 10% of a person's daily caloric intake per day should come from added sugars. Based on a typical daily caloric intake of 2,000 calories, that means that a person's total daily consumption of added sugar should be less than 200 calories (50 grams) - the amount in a single 16-oz. soda. The new food labels would require that processed foods list the percent daily value (%DV) of added sugar in a single serving, based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

The food processing industry is not happy about the proposed changes, for it will probably mean that the consumer will become increasingly aware of just how much added sugar there is in processed foods. Whether it'll help us cut back is anybody's guess. We'll know the new labels are working when food processors begin producing and promoting some products as having "1/3 less added sugar", like they did with fat when fat was a bad thing.

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