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New Food Labels are coming!

Pat Baird, MA, RDN, FAND

One of the things that I've learned in leading corporate wellness workshops is that most people don't understand food labels. Labels often come up as an aside to the topic, or they're actually part of it.

I see many people reading labels in supermarket aisles that leads me to think, "Great, people are using the label information”, so there must be a disconnect between reading and understanding nutrition information. 

All that may change. Earlier this year FDA approved a major overall of the food label. This new label must appear by 2018.  The new label is larger, contains more information, and is meant to help people know what they're choosing.  I have a few concerns. Chiefly, that “added sugar" will be displayed just below the "Total sugar" line. I worry that consumers will focus on sugar and toss aside items without really knowing why.

Sugar is the demon of the day, and that's unfair. Sugar provides energy and that is the first need of the body and the brain. While many consume too much sugar, many also consume too much sodium. Likewise, sodium is an important nutrient.  My point: it's all about balance.  And it’s about understanding the importance of more of some things, and less of others.

For instance, this dietitian is in favor of items like chocolate milk. The nutrient value, overall, is far greater than the fuss about the added sugar it contains. Soda is another thing that gets some evil attention. Ironically, the consumption of soda has actually declined over the last 10 years. Low- and no-cal sweeteners in soda allow us to enjoy soda without calories.  "Mini" cans provide another alternative.

Knowledge is power.  That's one of my core beliefs.  When it comes to food labels, they can be a wonderful tool to help consumers make better food choices.  "Better" means understanding what you're choosing - and why.  There is never a reason to eliminate any food or beverage; only to find a place for it.

Pat Baird is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and President of the CT Academy of Nutrition.  She is an award-winning author of five books, a noted media spokesperson, and adjunct professor at UConn Stamford. Pat worked in healthcare at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and is an advisory partner to the Food and Beverage Industry.

Tags: Health National Advocacy Blog
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