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Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE Headshot

Get Political: Speak Up About the Proposed New Nutrition Labels and Serving Sizes

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Do you catch yourself staring at the back of packaged foods trying to decipher what the nutrition labels mean? Let's face it... food labels can be very confusing. Now is our opportunity to have a voice in making changes!

Have you seen the proposals for the new food label? This change would be the first major adjustment since food labels were mandated in the early '90s. Up to this point, the only modification has been adding trans-fat amounts. The chance to finally update the label gives us an opportunity to help make these labels less puzzling for all of us!

One of the most misunderstood parts of the current label is serving size. It's important to keep in mind that serving size does not mean portion size. As the book Healthy Habits: The Program Plus Food Guide Index & Easy Recipes points out, a serving is a helping of food whereas a portion is an individual share of food -- enough to serve at a meal. Remember, there can be many servings in one portion. Eating a portion of food helps our bodies feel satisfied.

According to the FDA, serving sizes are based on the amount of food and drink people typically eat, not how much they "should" eat. Time and time again, I see this misunderstood by my clients. And rightly so because it is truly confusing! The new proposals suggest modifying the serving sizes of foods to better reflect what people are eating today. More about this later.

Some of the major changes to this label include much larger, bolder type noting calories and serving sizes, the addition of added sugars, requirements for potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and iron levels, and repositioning the "percent of daily values" to the left. Let's break this down further.

Bigger and Bolder
I don't know about you, but I think the type on the current label is quite difficult to read. The new plan is to emphasize the calorie counts and serving sizes with BIG and BOLD fonts. This will be very helpful for many people. The redesign also plans to highlight the number of servings per container right up front, making this important information more visible to the consumer and easier to understand.

"Sweet" Change
Most definitely, a really "sweet" change is the inclusion of added sugars on the label. Displaying a listing for "added sugars" will educate people on the difference between a food with natural sugars and a food which has had sugars added during processing. Perhaps this will encourage food companies to reduce the amount of added sugars in foods. When trans-fat was added to food labels, manufactures began to decrease, remove and/or replace it. Ideally, trans-fat and or added sugars are decreased or removed and if they are replaced, it would be with a non or low processed food.

% Daily Value: Just what is this?
The proposed new label moves the "percent of daily value" to the left, in front of each nutrient listed. Personally, I never use % Daily Value data and follow the same inclination when working with my clients. % Daily Value is based on the assumption that one is consuming 2000 calories per day. Yet every individual ingests and burns different amounts of calories. If anything, providing grams of the macronutrients would be more useful... especially for individuals with diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease. Dietitians typically recommend grams of carbohydrates, fiber, protein and more. In my opinion, % Daily Value should be omitted from the nutrition facts label; this would certainly simplify it.

Getting Fancy: Label #2
There is another proposed label; it's known as the alternate label. This label "attempts" to include nutrition education by dividing nutrients into categories. This second proposal helps connect the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to food labels. However, wording like "avoid too much" gets tricky. "Avoid" has a very negative connotation and while adding these adjectives may be helpful to some, it can be triggering to others. I wonder if descriptive words like "some of the time" might be a more positive way to get a similar message across. Hopefully, the updated label will provide helpful information to encourage nutrition awareness and health promotion. It's important for readers to remember that we can fit ALL foods into a healthy diet. Properly conveying this message to everyone is the challenge!

Changing Serving Sizes
Let's continue to explore this "unit" of measurement. The proposed changes to serving size information are not only to give them more visibility on the label, but also to adjust serving sizes to realistically match what people are eating. I am, however, getting confused by the proposed changes as there are inconsistencies.

Many foods we eat are packaged in containers noting the contents as two or three servings. Many may consume the entire package while many others may restrict their intake to only one serving. Here, it's of utmost importance to remember that a serving is not a portion... and vice versa.

Labeling the entire container would be very useful NOT because it would reflect what people are actually eating (what the FDA wants to do), rather it would reflect the calories in the entire package. Soda is an excellent example of this. A 20-ounce soda container featuring a label noting "1 serving" would show people how many calories and how much sugar they consume from that one 20-ounce bottle. A 12-ounce can would also be considered "1 serving"... but it would reflect the calorie and sugar content in that 12-ounce can. Neither size represents what someone "should" drink, but rather what someone is drinking when they choose to drink a bottle or can of soda. This part is straightforward.

However, the point seems lost and gets even more confusing with the serving sizes noted for something like ice cream. For example, labels on pints of ice cream currently state that one-half cup equals a serving... with four per pint. The proposed label would read that one cup equals one serving. So the pint would contain two servings rather than four. Yes, people may currently eat just half a cup or even as much as one cup. But with the proposed new labeling, people will automatically think they are supposed to eat half of the container. We should not try to match our servings to what people actually consume because most people typically over consume or under consume. Instead, we should maintain consistency with the soda idea. If an entire bottle of soda is one serving, shouldn't all smaller units of measure be labeled as one serving as well? Ice cream labels would then state that the serving in the pint is equal to two cups totaling 800 kcals. People can then decide how much they want to eat. Noting two servings in one package and one serving in another package is truly misleading. The labeling needs to be consistent if we are going to make changes. A great way to do this would be to have side-by-side labels indicating the nutrients in one serving on the right and nutrients in the whole container on the left (or vice versa).

Changing the serving sizes to better educate people about their nutrition choices is important. I strongly disagree with the concept of matching serving sizes with what people "typically" eat. If the FDA must keep this concept, I then propose another way to keep people better informed by including the heading "Typical Serving Size" or "Average Serving Size" on the top. This would help to make the distinction that a serving size is not a recommendation, but rather how much is typically consumed.

During the next 90 days, the government is accepting comments on these labels. So, now is your time to help make a change! It's really easy to submit comments online. Use our sample comment to get you started... and let your opinions be heard.

Comment on changing the labels here.

Comment on changing serving sizes here.

You can even copy and paste the sample below:

Address:

Date:

Subject: Proposed Nutrition Facts Label

Dear FDA,

Please consider the following to help educate the greater public and simplify the nutrition facts label.

1. Please omit the "% daily values," because they are confusing and not useful. Individuals have individual nutritional needs.

2. Please keep the serving sizes consistent. Either one package equals a serving size or show two adjacent columns with one listing nutrients for "a typical serving" and the other listing nutrients for the entire container.

For example: Ice cream pints currently are labeled that one-half cup equals a serving. The proposed label would note that one cup equals one serving. So the pint would have two servings rather than four. Yes, people may currently eat just half a cup or even as much as one cup. But with the proposed new labeling, people will automatically think they are supposed to eat half of the container. We should not try to match our servings to what people actually consume because most people typically over consume or under consume. Instead, we should maintain consistency with the soda idea. If an entire bottle of soda is one serving, shouldn't all smaller units of measure be labeled as one serving as well? Ice cream labels would then state that the serving in a pint is two cups totaling 800 kcals. People can then decide how much they want to eat. Noting two servings in one package and one serving in another package is truly misleading. The labeling needs to be consistent if we are going to make changes. A great way to do this would be to have side-by-side labels indicating the nutrients in one serving on the right and nutrients in the whole container on the left (or vice versa).

Sincerely,

NAME

All information regarding the proposed Nutrition Facts Label changes courtesy of: www.FDA.gov

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