The Truth About The Nutrition Panel
Lauren Shafer writing on the nutrition panel…
Look down a center aisle in a large supermarket, and you’re likely to see a confused-looking shopper scrutinizing a bag or box with the focused gaze of a puzzled scientist.
The puzzle that shopper is trying to decode…?
The nutrition panel.
Food labeling was first regulated over a century ago in 1906 when Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act to put a stop to purposely misleading and fraudulent claims on food and drugs.
Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees standards for labeling packaged foods, but as manufacturers create complex products with ingredients further and further away from actual food, labeling has become overly complicated and difficult to interpret.
For example, what the heck does 12 grams of sugar even mean as it relates to your health? Is 5 grams of protein in a bowl of cereal good or bad?
In May of 2016, the FDA announced the first major change to the nutrition panel in more than 25 years, to take effect in 2018.
The aim is to simplify the way information is displayed so shoppers can quickly find and understand key data points to make a healthful choice (or at least know what they’re getting into if health is not their priority).
Changes to the panel include larger, bold fonts for the calorie count and realistic serving sizes. One of the most notable changes is the way sugar will be displayed, now allowing us to tell, for example, how much of the sugar in our strawberry yogurt occurs naturally in lactose and fruit, and how much comes from added sugar.
Brands had a full two years to change their labels, and many have already done so ahead of the mandated deadline. Additionally, realizing their unsavory numbers would be on full view, some brands began reformulating products, cutting back on added sugar.
However, our new administration extended that deadline to 2020, with many anticipating it will be delayed further or ultimately repealed.
Any time the interest of business is put ahead of the health of consumers, I’m suspicious of the motives — but does it matter?
The much bigger concern is that we are relying on a nutrition panel to tell us whether we’re making a nutritious choice. That tells me how broken our food system is.
Here’s the good news: We don’t have to wait on the FDA or food manufacturers; we have plenty of power in our hands today to evaluate and make good choices about how we feed ourselves.
The most important piece of labeling — the ONLY item that really matters — is already on all of our packaged foods.
It’s the ingredients list.
It’s been there all along, factually answering the question, “What is this food made of?” and sometimes even answering, “Is this food?”
And while it’s helpful to know just how much added sugar a product contains, I can discern a lot about the amount of added sugar in a product by reading the ingredient listing, keeping in mind that items are listed in order of greatest to least.
It’s also important to know the key words to check for in an ingredient list, including the word Hydrogenated (often preceded by “Partially”), which indicates the presence of the worst fats for heart health, trans fats. You’ll also want to look out for sugar appearing in multiple forms. Look for the words glucose, sucrose, maltose, fructose (just about anything that ends in -ose) along with syrups and malts like corn syrup or barley malt.
Many manufacturers deliberately use several sources of sugar rather than one to push the individual sugar ingredients further down in the ingredient listing, and in the hopes that you don’t notice or recognize one or more of them as added sugar. If you find a food using this trick, I can almost guarantee it’s not good for your health.
Even better than relying on the ingredient listing, you can be 100% confident you’re making a good choice when you buy whole food that has been minimally processed…fresh fruit, vegetables, raw seeds and nuts, dried whole grains, beans, and minimally processed meat and dairy.
Want to absolutely guarantee you’re getting excellent quality nutrition?
Planting a garden and growing your own produce or making friends with farmers at your local farmers market are excellent ways to ensure you’re getting quality produce, dairy, eggs, and meat.
P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in The Savvy Retiree Daily. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.