What’s the Deal With The New FDA Nutrition Labels?

On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced that the familiar Nutrition Facts label found on every food and food product would be undergoing a facelift. Supposedly, the new improved label will reflect “new scientific information”—more on that in a moment. According to the FDA website, the new label “will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices.”


First, let me say this——looking to the federal government for guidance on what to eat is a fool’s errand. There are two government agencies that have a tremendous influence over what we eat—the USDA and the FDA. Let’s start with the first one.


The USDA has two mandates—one of which is to provide the country with accurate information about food and health, the other of which is to protect and expand the interests of American agriculture. Those two mandates put the USDA smack in the middle of conflict of interest territory. Four of the five biggest crops in America are implicated in making us fat, tired, sick and depressed. The government will never tell us to eat less of them.


Then there’s the FDA, which is, at this point, so compromised by Big Pharma money that even Forbes magazine has taken note.  (The FDA, by the way, is the same agency that works tirelessly to protect us against the dangers of vitamin supplements! I rest well every night knowing they’re on the job.)


But I digress.


So here are some of the changes you’re going to be seeing on the nutrition facts label.


Let’s start with the Daily Value, a stupid and useless concept if there ever was one. (I’m still waiting for someone—anyone—to give me a useful definition of “Daily Value”. No one uses the term in real life, few people understand it, and it adds absolutely nothing to the conversation except confusion.) The “Daily Value” still sits there on the new label, but now manufacturers have to tell us the actual amount of a nutrient, rather than just the percentage of DV.


So while the old label would say “Calcium… 20% of daily value”, the new label will say “Calcium….260 mg….. 20% of Daily Value. At least now you know you’re getting 260 mg of calcium. What’s more, vitamin A and vitamin C have been taken off the label, while vitamin D and potassium have been added. (Calcium and iron were on the old label and will remain on the new one.)


People, can we just talk about how ridiculous this is? Why vitamin A and not B1? Why calcium and not magnesium? Or vitamin K2? The selection of what nutrients to include is arbitrary and isn’t based on anything other than some dude on a regulatory committee that thought it was important.


Why is this a problem? Because the inclusion of some nutrients (i.e. potassium, calcium) and the exclusion of others (magnesium, selenium) sends a not-so-subtle message that the nutrients included on the label are somehow more important than the ones that weren’t. (It also sends a secondary message that the government actually knows what nutrients are most important. Ridiculous.)


Speaking of subtle messages, why is cholesterol still on the label? Really, people? The FDA says that the new guidelines will “reflect the latest science” but the latest science is quite clear that dietary cholesterol means absolutely nothing, and even the FDA itself has said that dietary cholesterol is no longer “a nutrient of concern”.


Then why put it on the damn label? It’s not important, it never was important, but the millions of people who see this nonsense on the label will think it is.


One good change to the labels is that “Calories from Fat” is being removed. This is definitely a good thing, but why on earth has it taken this long? Walter Willett—the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and the lead researcher on two of the largest studies to ever investigate the relationship between diet and health, the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study—told World Health News that “We have found virtually no relationship between the percentage of calories from fat and any important health outcome”.


Know when he said that? March 29, 2000.


So why did it take them 16 years to take the “calories from fat” part off the label? Keep that in mind when you evaluate government recommendations on food and vitamins. Just saying.


One really good thing about the new labels is that they no longer let the manufacturers lie about “serving size”. Ever look at the label on something like a “healthy muffin”? You glance at it and it says 100 calories per serving and you think, OK, cool, that’s not so bad. Except the fine print says: Serving size: 1/3 muffin; Number of servings: 3.


So the manufacturers of the 12 or 16 ounce bottles of soda that absolutely everybody in the world drinks in one sitting can no longer pretend that their product “serves three”. From now on, you will actually know the number of calories and other stuff that’s in the portion you are about to eat.


There’s actually going to be a dual column on the new labels—one will be the fake “serving size 1/3 cookie” stuff, the other will be the real deal—what’s in the whole cookie (which is much more useful, since you’re going to eat it in two bites anyway).


I do like the fact that they now have to tell us how many grams of the sugar in our food comes from “added sugars”. (You can believe Big Food fought hard against that one in the back alleys of Lobby-dom!)


Manufacturers will have to comply by July 26…. 2018.


Sorry if I sound like I don’t have any faith in our government. I actually think they do some things pretty well. Recommending what we should be eating doesn’t happen to be one of them.