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