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Food and Drug Administration proposes changes to nutrition labels

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Concerned parents and others should have a little easier time selecting healthy foods very soon, according to a CNN article published February 28, 2014.

The Food and Drug Administration wants to update the nutrition labels found on foods and beverages by highlighting calories, sugar content, and specific nutrients such as potassium and Vitamin D. The FDA also wants to make the serving size, already mandated on nutrition labels, to better reflect what people actually consume.

Nutrition labels were first required by the FDA about 20 years ago, but they have been unchanged ever since. The debut of nutrition labels coincided roughly with the onset of the spike in obesity and this, along with better accuracy and less confusion, is one of the reasons cited for the proposed changes.

"You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it's good for your family," first lady Michelle Obama said in a press release. "So this is a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across this country."

Nutrition labels, in their present form, are truthful but parents and others strongly dislike their misleading nature. The serving size issue mentioned about is one of the more common complaints with nutrition labels. The manufacturer can make the serving size say whatever it feels is close to a typical serving, and this may or may not reflect reality. For example, it is common for a pint size beverage bottle to show the serving size as 8 ounces. This makes it look like the calories, sugar, etc., are half as bad as they really are. The manufacturer knows well that those who purchase a 16 oz. bottle will likely drink its entire contents, but they still list the serving size as 8 ounces. The new FDA proposals call for changes in these misleading figures.

Other proposed changes include elimination of the Calories From Fat and an added line that shows how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added. The calories from fat has been determined by nutritionists to be misleading because it’s really the type of fat you consume that matters, not the calories from fat. And the sugar breakdown is important because it will help parents and other concerned consumers determine how much sugar is natural and how much refined sugar has been added, as the latter is the more critical to avoid.

The Food and Drug administration has opened up a 90- day comment period and it encourages nutritionists, dieticians, and concerned citizens to provide input before it makes a final decision. The FDA hopes to complete its proposed changes this year. Food and beverage manufacturers will then have two years to implement the changes.

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