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Would this label make you eat healthy?

Most of us are aware that the eating habits of Americans are not optimal. We are experiencing an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other diseases that are associated with poor diet.  But for many, it is hard to know what to do, and how to change.  The FDA is trying to make things easier for people by encouraging food manufacturers to add “dietary guidance statements” (like the ones above and left) to food labels.

What do YOU think?  Would this kind of information help you?  Let me know in the comments.

I personally think that, while there is nothing really wrong with these statements, they are not specific enough to change consumers habits.  I also question if food labels are the best way to teach Americans about good nutrition. 

After all, the purpose of food labeling is first and foremost to accurately identify what is inside a package.  Secondly, it is used to encourage purchase.  Given that, would food labels be trusted to teach consumers about nutritious eating patterns?

You can read my posted comments here.

Under the “proposed guidance”, food companies could only use these “Dietary Guidance Statements” on foods with low levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat, as shown above.  BUT, if the levels of salt, sugar or saturated fat are higher, they would need to add a “disclaimer” to the label such as on the yogurt container below.  Can you tell the difference?  Personally, I think it is confusing.

In my comments to the FDA, I suggested the following possible revisions:

  • Consider other avenues to convey simple, basic, unbiased nutrition education to the American public. 
  • Strongly encourage consumption of whole legumes (peas, beans, soybeans, chickpeas and lentils).  Legumes are affordable, sustainable, high in protein, fiber, and minerals with an unusually low glycemic index.  A daily dose of beans could alleviate many of America’s nutritional problems.
  • I recommend legumes be pulled out as a separate dietary category, rather than being grouped together under “protein foods”.  Much as dietary guidelines recommend “half your grains should be whole grains”, consumers should be encouraged to eat legumes every day.
  • Current nutritional advice can be summarized as:
    • Limit salt, sugar and saturated fat
    • Eat more fiber
    • Eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains
  • I think it would be easier to teach people (and convey on labels) these three points, rather than encourage companies to develop a plethora of possibly misleading statements (designed to make people buy their products).
  • With the above in mind, it would be helpful if the FDA developed 20-30 “pre-approved” Dietary Guidance Statements that can be used on foods that meet the criteria.  That way, the playing field for food manufacturers and consumers is level.  Consumers can trust the information and companies do not have to research consensus documents on their own and pay an expensive lawyer to determine if the dietary guidance statement they come up with is going to be legal.
  • In developing the “pre-appoved”  Dietary Guidance Statements, I think the FDA should consider the array of products where statements might be used.  For example:
    • Should they be used on products with artificial sweeteners?
    • Should they be used on very high calorie and/or high fat products?
    • Should they be used on foods deep fried in vegetable oil?
    • How will you convey the overwhelming evidence of the healthfulness of a plant-based diet?
    • Does it make nutritional sense to encourage dairy consumption (reference recent action in Canada)?
    • How will USDA-regulated products be labeled? (Consumers do not know or understand the difference between FDA and USDA regulated foods, so different rules for different products will be confusing.)

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