WASHINGTON (AP) — Nutrition facts labels on food packages list ingredients and nutrient levels, but they don't tell consumers outright if a food is good for them.
Public health advocates say that information is necessary to help consumers make healthy choices at the supermarket. They'd like to see labels on the front of packages and a clearer statement of which ingredients are good and which should be avoided.
The Food and Drug Administration is working on a label overhaul and has proposed two different versions.
Writing separately in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, former FDA Commissioner David Kessler and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official William H. Dietz both say the FDA doesn't go far enough. Dietz, the CDC's former director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, is now with George Washington University.
Five ways these experts, and others, say nutrition facts labels could be improved:
—INDICATE OVERALL NUTRITIONAL VALUE: The FDA proposed a nutrition facts overhaul in February that made a lot of improvements sought by the public health community. There was more emphasis on calories, revised serving sizes closer to what Americans really eat and a new line for added sugars. But Kessler says there is nothing in the new framework that "actively encourages consumers to purchase food rich in the fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rightfully considered 'real food.'"
Both Kessler and Dietz say the panel's emphasis on specific nutrients gives food companies the ability to make claims on the fronts of their packages that can mislead consumers. For example, sugary or fatty foods can entice customers by adding fiber and promoting that. Diners often consume more of a food that is advertised as low in calories, whether it is healthy or not.
As Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest puts it: "It's a bunch of technical terms — saturated fat and cholesterol and dietary fiber. What do those mean? Are these numbers high or low, good or bad, what do you do with it?"
—MAKE INGREDIENT LISTS CLEARER: Shoppers may turn over a package of food and look for "sugar" on its ingredient list. What that consumer may not know is that "sugar" could be listed as maltose, dextrose, sucrose, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey or a variety of fruit juice concentrates, among other ways.
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