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FDA looks to revamp nutrition labels

Published 4:28 pm, Monday, March 3, 2014
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Have your voice heard
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants feedback on its proposed changes to the nutrition labels. The proposed new guidelines will be published in the federal register for a 90-day comment period; to read them and comment, visit FDA's official docket at www.regulations.gov.
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They're supposed to help consumers make healthier choices, but a lot of the time, the nutrition labels on packaged foods end up confusing people.

"What I always tell people is that the only shortcoming of these labels is that they don't come with a dietitian to explain what they mean," said Erica Christ, a dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Greenwich Hospital.

The current labels, she said, look like a bunch of meaningless numbers, and people often have to be walked through them to get the information they need. Other nutrition experts agreed that the labels are outdated and unhelpful.

It looks like officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration feel the same way.

The FDA is looking to change the nutrition fact labels that appear on packaged foods. Among other things, calories and the number of servings per container would be listed in larger type, which Christ said was encouraging.

Also, serving-size guidelines would be changed to reflect how much people actually eat and drink.

"When you get a 20-ounce soda, the label says it's 2 1/2 servings," said Judy Prager, president of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"But I don't know anybody who would only drink eight ounces. They drink the whole thing."

It makes sense to make serving sizes realistic, said Prager, of New Fairfield.

The labels were developed about 20 years ago, and other than requiring in 2006 that manufacturers include trans-fat information, there hasn't been an update.

"It's long overdue," said Dana White, clinical assistant professor in Quinnipiac University's athletic training and sports medicine program.

"I think this is definitely a step in the right direction," Gavin Pritchard, a registered dietitian and chef at Stamford Hospital, said of the proposed new labels. "I think people are wanting more information, and more-helpful information."

Other proposed changes include requiring information about the amount of "added sugars" in a food product. The FDA also plans to eliminate the "calories from fat" on its label, as research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount. Listings for saturated fat, trans fat and total fat would still be included.

The FDA is accepting public comment on the proposed changes for 90 days. If the FDA follows that period by implementing new labeling requirements, packaged-food producers would be given two years to comply.

The changes would affect all packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Although nutrition advocates were mainly positive about the proposed changes, some have reservations. Christ said she worried that people still wouldn't understand the labels and could even be confused by the larger serving sizes.

"The fear I have is that people will see the larger number as the amount they're supposed to eat," she said.

Prager said she's also concerned that people won't understand the new labels.

"I really hope the government is going to provide some sort of education on how to use these," she said.

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/