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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 28, 2007

New Nutrition Labeling System Still Has Flaws

By Mark Sisson

New nutrition labels are in the works for a 2008 unveiling. There are some terrific improvements over the current labels. A particular problem I’ve long had with the existing labels is that the numbers are based upon the assumption that you’re following a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet. That’s too much for many women, not enough for many men, and irrelevant for many growing kids. And yet nearly every food and food product in America is measured and judged as if we were all virtually identical and weighing in at 150 pounds. Who actually takes time to adjust the nutritional values for their particular weight, BMI, and body fat percentage? Moreover, how many Americans are even aware that when they see “15% fat” on a label, the food carrying this label is not 15% fat? It seems, in fact, to be the perfect recipe for ambiguity – and obesity. If I wanted to obscure accurate nutrition information – because why would we ever want to present what’s inside on the outside – I’d come up with some imaginary standard and convoluted comparisons, too.

O.K., Mark, we get it. Now that I’ve dispatched with my preliminary rant, let’s take a look at the changes. The label is getting an overhaul, and here is what you can expect:

First, what we’re talking about here is a system called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index. Foods will be judged, measured and marked based upon comparisons to other foods. “Overall Nutritional Quality” sounds like a sensible approach that prioritizes quality over arbitrary numbers. I do like this aspect of the new label. For example, a bag of broccoli will offer nutritional comparisons to other vegetables so you get an idea of the value of the green you’re about to eat. (This will apply to candy, drinks, and all processed foods, as well. Not sure how helpful “this refined bread is better for you than that donut” is going to be, but we’ll have to see how it all shakes out, I suppose.)

Second, the labels will be more positively focused. I like that intent. Rather than simply including the “bad” information, the labels will also point out the good nutrients, proteins, fats, and fiber. The obvious problem with this, however, is that what’s considered “bad” and what’s considered “good” is flawed. Saturated fat and cholesterol are – as usual – undesirable, while carbohydrates (excluding sugar) are considered desirable. Same box, new, shiny wrapper. All this amounts to a new labeling system that forgos the arbitrary numbers but makes comparisons – and recommendations – based upon flawed evidence and deeply misguided nutritional understanding.

Third, I can’t resist sharing a few quotes from the article that don’t need my help:

– “You really shouldn’t need a PhD in nutritional biochemistry to figure out which kids’ breakfast cereal is healthier.”

– “The scoring system will let consumers compare different types of the same food, so they will be able to tell not only that fruit is healthier than candy, but which fruits or candy are more or less healthy.

‘It’s all candy, none of it is going to compare to broccoli,’ Katz [spokesperson] said. ‘But face it, when you want candy, broccoli isn’t going to do the job.’ ”

Pardon me while I go bang my head against the wall. Have fun in the meantime.

Photo Credit: Arimoore

Further Reading:

Why the Atkins Diet Works

Yet Another Half-Baked Grain Study

King Corn: Don’t Miss This Movie!

LOLcats are addictive and sugar-free

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TAGS:  big agra, Hype

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5 Comments on "New Nutrition Labeling System Still Has Flaws"


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8 years 10 months ago

Do we really want to trust an organization that tells us we need 11 servings of grains a day to tell us whats better or worse for us?

8 years 10 months ago

I know this is not totally practical in the real world, but as a principle:
If it needs a nutritional label in the first place, don’t eat it!

Cindy Moore
8 years 10 months ago

There are a lot of us banging our heads against walls!!

I keep thinking any day “they” will get it…..and then something like this comes out.

“so they will be able to tell not only that fruit is healthier than candy”
Do they really think there are that many adults (parents) that don’t know that fruit is healthier than candy? If they do and there are, we’re doomed.


[…] New Nutrition Labeling System Still Has Flaws […]


[…] One in four nutrition labels is wrong.  Very often a product will claim to have no calories, sugar or trans fats when it fact, it has calories, sugar and trans fats. Sometimes the carb count is really higher than what it says. Innocent mistake? Perhaps. Or perhaps some labeling is misleading on purpose. If the company gets fined at all, you’ve already bought and consumed their product and are not likely to read the label again if you purchase it in the future so they end up ahead. […]