‘Improved’ food labels will not promote health

By Isabelle Cavazos, COLUMNIST
On March 3, 2014

 

The movement toward healthier eating habits and greater awareness of nutritional information in the U.S. is already seen with small labels indicating calorie content on the front of Snickers bars and soda bottles.

Consumers may soon notice adjustments in the familiar food label, too.

First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg recently proposed a plan to redesign Nutrition Facts labels to show the calorie count of products in enlarged type, list added sugars and present more practical
serving sizes.

The purpose of these changes is to provide parents with a clear, accurate description of what they choose to purchase for
their families.

While placing more attention on the caloric and sugar content of foods gives consumers an honest depiction of how “good” or “bad” a certain item is, doing so only follows trends in dieting and fails to emphasize other nutrition information that is equally important to one’s health.

When Nutrition Facts labels were first implemented, research at the time determined fat content was a cause for weight gain and obesity. However, more recent research from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains that an overage of “energy IN,” or overall caloric intake, is the true cause.

In an age with apps like MyFitnessPal, which allows users to calculate their daily intake down to the Sweet N’ Low packet, one doesn’t need to hire a nutritionist to know attention to calories is now the focus of weight loss.

However, while monitoring calories is a strategy many people use to lose or maintain weight, other factors on the food label such as protein, fiber, sodium and vitamins offer a more balanced understanding of food necessary for healthy living than caloric content in an increased font size.

For instance, a serving of Planters Creamy peanut butter is 180 calories — much more than the zero calories in a tablespoon or two of Walden Farms Whipped Peanut Spread. While the imitation peanut butter seems like a guilt-free alternative, Planters peanut butter contains 7 grams of protein and 150 milligrams of sodium, whereas Walden Farms Spread has no protein and 210 milligrams of sodium.

Though the revamped labels would still list this information, the enhanced calorie content alone would make a zero calorie spread seem like the better option, when in fact, though it may be a ticket to faster weight loss, it offers little health benefit.

In the same way an Iowa teacher can lose 37 pounds eating nothing but McDonald’s for 90 days, traditional dieters can lose weight by disregarding nutrition as long as they measure calories.

The only sound addition to these labels is the “added sugars” sections, which would list the amount of sugar added by the manufacturer. Currently, labels list a combined amount of natural and added sugars.

Aside from government intervention in what consumers should monitor, this alteration in food labels skews nutritional value.

Calories alone do not determine health, and people shouldn’t have to walk through the supermarket aisle with each label telling them it does.

Isabelle Cavazos is a sophomore majoring in English.

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