Tag Archives: nutrition

Megan Nichols
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Can We Make Food Labeling More Consistent?

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Consistent Inconsistencies

Current food labels may seem to possess a wealth of information, but they’re often challenging to read even if you know what you’re looking for. Additionally, studies have shown that even accurate food labels don’t work —they lead to no significant dietary changes. Even posting the calorie counts on fast food menus did little to change people’s eating habits.

It might sound as simple as telling consumers to read the ingredients labels on the items that they’re purchasing. The problem with this—aside from the fact that ingredients are often printed in a painfully small font—is that you almost need a degree in chemistry to understand the components. This confusion is a big issue with processed foods that contain a variety of chemicals to protect the flavor of the food and preserve it during storage.

When it comes down to it, choosing healthy foods isn’t the problem—or at least, not the only problem. Picking a healthy option isn’t as complicated as doing your taxes or choosing a mortgage when you purchase a home. We as consumers have plenty of information available to us when it comes to eating healthy. The problem is the fact that it’s easier and usually cheaper to choose the unhealthy option. You can buy a can of soda for $0.50, while a bottle of water often costs more than $1 at a soda machine or convenience store.

No One Reads Them Anymore

Another big issue with nutrition labels is that no one bothers to read them anymore. One survey found that two-thirds of young adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area don’t bother reading nutrition labels or worry about the nutrition content of what they’re eating.

While the survey didn’t explore why adults were no longer utilizing nutrition labeling, it’s likely due to a combination of consumer distrust and confusion. People either don’t trust that the labels contain accurate information, or they’re merely confused by the information presented in that format.

The Healthwashing Dilemma

How many times have you walked into the grocery store and chosen a brand based on whether or not it had “All-Natural” or “Organic” labels? Even if these phrases are written on the label, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the food contained within falls under either of those categories. That’s where the problem of healthwashing occurs.

Food packages will slap these labels on their product even if it doesn’t apply—a company can claim that their product is “all natural” and still use pesticides on it. Some businesses use products like pyrethrins, which are potentially dangerous pesticides derived from natural sources—specifically, the chrysanthemum flower.

Food companies don’t typically like to advertise this information because it might discourage potential consumers from choosing their brand, especially if the user is concerned about their health and is trying to remove all chemicals and pesticides from their food chain.

Fixing the Labeling Problem

What can we do to encourage consumers to pay attention to nutrition labels? The biggest challenge lies in making these labels more consistent and transparent. That task is more complicated than it sounds since there is no regulation or standardization in nutrition labeling. Clean labeling could be the solution.

Five key facets define clean labels — Simple ingredients lists, transparency in ingredients and packaging, no flowery language, accurate images and fresh food—are top priorities for consumers, with transparency being in the highest demand. However, these labels face the same problems as current nutrition labels—a lack of standardization. When asking more than 27,000 people in 31 countries what they thought clean labeling meant, more than a third had no idea, according to a report from Packaged Facts.

Many companies have started to transition to clean labels, but no law currently requires businesses to do so.

The Need for Change in Food Labeling Consistency

Food labeling could potentially help consumers make healthier choices if they were more accurate and easier to understand. Eliminating the flowery language that currently defines food labeling is one step in the right direction. The federal government— or, more specifically, the FDA— may need to step in as well to create standards that each company can be held to so that consumers know what exactly is in their food, no matter the brand.

Food labels are on nearly everything that we buy, except for fresh meat and produce. It’s time to create a standard and transparent label that everyone can understand.

Study: Organic Foods More Nutritious Than Conventional

By Michael Biros
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The study looked at an unprecedented 343 peer-reviewed publications comparing the nutritional quality and safety of organic and conventional plant-based foods.

The largest study of its kind has found that organic foods and crops are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. The study, led by a team of scientists at Newcastle University in England, found that organic foods have more antioxidants, fewer pesticide residues, and lower levels cadmium and nitrogen compounds.

Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the study looked at an unprecedented 343 peer-reviewed publications comparing the nutritional quality and safety of organic and conventional plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, and grains. The study team applied sophisticated meta-analysis techniques to quantify differences between organic and non-organic foods.

Washington State University research professor Chuck Benbrook was the only American co-author of the study.

According to a WSU press release about the findings, “consumers who switch to organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals would get 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants. That’s the equivalent of about two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with no increase in caloric intake.”

Antioxidants are thought to help prevent a variety of diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

Conventional crops had twice the amount of cadmium and were three to four times more likely to have pesticide residues than the organic versions, the Newcastle study found. Cadmium is a highly toxic heavy metal contaminant that has been linked to kidney failure, bone softening, liver failure, and lung cancer.

What’s Changing with Nutritional Labeling and Serving Sizes?

By Michael Biros
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Bailey Pudenz, Nutritional Coordinator at Eurofins Nutrition Analysis Center, explains what the proposed changes are, and how the labeling would need to change under the new requirements.

FDA has proposed changes to the current nutritional labeling. Currently both the proposed nutritional labeling and serving size rules are in comment period which will close June 2, 2014. Once the final rule is published, it will become law 60 days after the publication date. Industry will then have two years to achieve compliance.

Calories

Calories, calories from saturated fat, the 2000 calorie reference, and percent daily value for calories will remain the same. However, calories from fat will be removed completely. FDA wants consumers to be more aware of the amount and type of fat they eat rather than the calories the fat contributes.

Fat

Total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, poly and monounsaturated fat, and cholesterol will remain the same. FDA considered changing the cutoff value for declaration of zero trans fat, but they have chosen not to change this either. Currently this value is 0.5g per serving. Anything less than this can be declared as zero. FDA is not allowing mandatory or voluntary declaration of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

Carbohydrates

There are no proposed changes to mandatory declaration or daily reference value for total carbohydrates. However, FDA has proposed changing the name to total carbs. Other carbohydrates, such as starches, are no longer allowed to be voluntarily declared on the label.

FDA is also proposing to change the calories from carbohydrates calculation. The calories from carbohydrates would then be used to calculate the total calorie content in the product. This proposal would exclude soluble and insoluble non-digestible carbohydrates from the calculation. Calories from carbohydrates would then be calculated using 4kcal/g less the amount of non-digestible carbohydrates. Soluble carbohydrates will then be added at a value of 2 kcal/g.

Sugars

There are no proposed changes to mandatory declaration or daily reference value for sugars. However, the name will be changed to total sugars and and a new category of added sugars will be mandatory to declare. FDA has developed an extensive list of what is considered an added sugar: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, maltose, malt sugar, molasses, raw sugar, turbinado, sugar, and sucrose. FDA acknowledges that there is no analytical method available to determine added sugars and will rely on ingredient records to determine the amount and type of added sugars. There are no proposed changes to sugar alcohols.

Dietary fiber

Dietary fiber will still be mandatory to declare, however FDA is proposing to increase the daily reference value to 28g per day. They will adopt the Institute of Medicine’s definition of total fiber which focuses on fiber that is beneficial to human health. There are no proposed changes to soluble or insoluble dietary fiber. 

Protein and Sodium

There are no proposed changes to protein. Sodium is still mandatory to list and FDA is considering lowering the daily reference value from 2400mg to 2300mg.

Essential Vitamins

Vitamins A and C will no longer be mandatory to declare on the label, but can still be voluntarily listed. Vitamin D will be mandatory to declare. FDA has proposed changing the units for vitamin A from IU to µg RAE (Retinol Activity Equivalents) and for vitamin D from IU to µg.

Vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, thiamin, riboflavin, biotin, and pantothenic acid will still be voluntary to declare. FDA is proposing the voluntary labeling of choline. The units for vitamin E will be changed from IU to mg. Folate/folic acid will still be voluntary, but they will no longer be interchangeable and the units will be changed from µg to µg DFE (Dietary Folate Equivalents). Niacin is still voluntary to declare, but the units will be changed from mg to mg NE (Niacin Equivalents).

Vitamins
Current RDIs
Proposed RDIs
Biotin
300 µg
30 µg
Choline
550 µg
550 µg
Folate 
400 µg
400 µg DFE
Niacin 
20 mg  
16 mg NE
Pantothenic Acid 
10 mg  
5 mg 
Riboflavin 
1.7 mg 
1.3 mg 
Thiamin 
1.5 mg 
1.2 mg
Vitamin A 
5000 IU 
900 µg RAE
Vitamin B6 
2.0 mg 
1.7 mg
Vitamin B12 
6 µg 
2.4 µg
Vitamin C 
60 mg 
90 mg
Vitamin D 
400 IU 
20 µg
Vitamin E 
30 IU 
15 mg
Vitamin K 
80 µg 
120 µg

Essential minerals

Calcium and iron will both remain mandatory to declare. It will be required to declare potassium. 

Phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, and chloride will still be voluntary to declare. Fluoride will be voluntary to declare and FDA is not defining a daily reference value. 

Minerals
Current RDIs
Proposed RDIs
Calcium
1000 mg
1300 mg
Chloride
3400 mg
2300 mg
Chromium
120 µg
35 µg
Copper
2.0 mg
0.9 mg
Iodine
150 µg
150 µg
Iron
18 mg
18 mg
Magnesium
400 mg
420 mg
Manganese
2.0 mg
2.3 mg
Molybendum
75 µg
45 µg
Phosphorus
1000 mg
1250 mg
Potassium
3500 mg
4700 mg
Selenium
70 µg
55 µg
Zinc
15 mg
11 mg

Serving sizes

Changes to RACCs (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed) were proposed if consumption data increased or decreased by 25 percent or more. Based on this, about 17 percent of the RACCs will change. FDA will also be adding 25 new RACC categories. Changes in the RACC can potentially change claims such as “low fat” or “a good source of calcium.”

FDA has proposed specifications for how to determine servings per container. Products containing 200 percent or less than the RACC are considered a single serving. Products containing 200-400 percent of the RACC can be labeled with dual columns (single serving and per container). Products with more than 400 percent of the RACC are multi-serving.

  

Nutrition Labels – Old and New
Nutrition-Label-Old-May-2014 Nutrition-Label-New-May-2014

Formatting

Calories and servings per container will be increased in size. The location of servings per container and serving size will be switched. Serving size will be right justified. The phrasing of amount per serving will be changed to include the serving size. Calories from fat will be removed. Percent daily value will be located on the left side of the label. Added sugars will be included below sugars. Mandatory vitamins and minerals will have quantitative amounts in addition to percent daily value. FDA is requesting comments on how the footnotes should be adjusted.