We've all heard rumors that food manufacturers downplay the calorie content of our favorite treats to tempt us into another cookie. But now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come out to say that nutrition fact labels— which were last updated 20 years ago — need to change to more accurately reflect exactly what we are eating. Calories should be displayed more prominently, and added sugar and whole wheat content should also be included on labels, as well as a recommended serving size. Which means it's going to be even more difficult to kid ourselves about that guestimated handful of marshmallows.
Part of the problem, says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is that: "When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren't intuitively familiar with." Most nutrients are listed in grams but who knows what a gram actually even weighs, never mind tastes like?
In the past 20 years, there's been an evolution in our understanding of what function fat plays in a diet. We now know not all fats are created equal, and that the difference between saturated and trans fats matters. Trans fats were separated out on labels in 2006 but other things still need changing. Other suggested categories that may benefit from amendment now include the calories from fat section.
It was Congress that first mandated the introduction of nutrition labels back in the early 1990s, and the new, updated versions have now been sent to the White House. While the FDA awaits their release, nutritional experts are suggesting other ways in which the labels may be further improved upon in the near future.
Congress has already called upon food manufacturers to clearly label products containing genetically-modified ingredients. But sugars are another area which creates complexities when it comes to conveying accurate information about their value. It seems that food manufacturers manipulate consumers' understanding of what is healthy, by adding naturally-occurring sugars to foods — thus enabling them to label the whole product as 'natural.' But until Americans are better educated about food, such labeling is disingenuous.
This is part of the reason why food education is so important, and why projects such as British chef Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, whereby he starts food education with children, and the U.S. State Health Department's Eat Healthy campaign can offer people the tools to make good nutritional choices of their own accord.
Besides, whatever the packet says, we all know that Cheetos, M & Ms, and Cool Whip don't for a good dinner make.