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Revamped food labels make choices easier

FARGO — A bottle of soda has 100 calories and 26 grams of sugar.

Not so bad, right?

Wrong.

A 20-ounce bottle of soda usually has two and a half servings, making the total calorie count 250 and sugar 65 grams.

Nutrition labels can be confusing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a new label Feb. 27 that’s easier to read and could change how consumers eat.

The proposed label clearly states the calories per serving and servings per container. Calories are also larger and bolder, and added sugars are listed.

The nutrition label revamp would be the first significant change since it was introduced more than 20 years ago.

“I think this has been a long time coming, and I am all for the new changes. Food labels are great tools for consumers to know what they are eating,” says Elizabeth Hilliard, assistant professor and program coordinator for the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at North Dakota State University.

Hilliard, along with Andrea Haugen, the clinic dietitian supervisor at Sanford Clinic SouthPointe in Fargo, explain the label changes and offer input as nutrition-minded professionals.

The FDA is accepting public comment on the proposed revisions at www.regulations.gov until June 2. It is not yet known when the new labeling law would take effect if approved.

1. The number of servings per package is bolder, and calories per serving are easily identified.

“There has been a lot of confusion in the past about whether the information on the label refers to the entire package or the serving,” Hilliard says. “Making the serving size and number of servings per container more visible will remind consumers that the information on the package refers to the given serving size.”

2. The FDA wants to update serving size requirements to reflect what people “actually eat, according to recent food consumption data.”

Hilliard likes that the FDA wants to make serving sizes more in line with what people normally consume.

Haugen’s concerned that consumers might think it’s OK to eat larger serving sizes.

“This is like saying that the public gets to choose the interest rate on loans. OK, maybe this is a little extreme, but I still don’t think that this should be left up to the general public,” she says. “People need guidance.”

3. Calories are bolder and in a larger typeface.

4. The Daily Values are updated and shifted to the left.

Daily Values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value (%DV) on the label, which helps consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total diet, according to the FDA.

In addition, the %DV would be shifted to the left of the label to help consumers visually and quickly put nutrient information in context.

5. Calories from fat are no longer listed.

Both Hilliard and Haugen agree that the type of fat is more important than the total amount in the food.

“Consumers should look for foods with more unsaturated fats (like mono and polyunsaturated fats) and choose foods that are lower in saturated fat and trans fat,” Hilliard explains.

For example, avocados contain many calories from fat but most of the fat is monounsaturated, which is great for heart health (it lowers bad cholesterol and raises the good cholesterol levels).

Likewise, ice cream might have the same amount of calories from fat but most of it would be from saturated fat, which is not good for the heart, Hilliard says.

6. Added sugars will be on the label for the first time.

Both nutrition experts agree that Americans consume far too much sugar.

Including added sugars on the nutrition label could help consumers make better choices, Haugen says.

“It is hard to convince someone that canned fruit with no added sugar is actually a healthy food when the sugar grams appear to be high,” she says.

Hilliard explains that some foods naturally contain sugar, like fruit, milk, yogurt and some vegetables. On the current nutrition label, it’s difficult to determine which sugar is natural and what’s been added.

7. The amounts of potassium and Vitamin D would be required on the label.

Potassium is important in maintaining health blood pressure, which could help prevent heart disease, Hilliard says.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vitamin D is essential in preventing osteoporosis.

“Our bodies can make it from sunlight but most of us do not get enough sunlight exposure these days to make it sufficiently,” Hilliard says.

Anna G. Larson

Anna G. Larson is a features reporter with The Forum who writes a weekly column featuring stylish people in Fargo-Moorhead. Larson graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in journalism and joined The Forum in July 2012. She's a Fargo native who enjoys travel, food, baking, fashion, animals, coffee and all things Midwestern. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @msannagrace 

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