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By Cabrina Buckman
Imagine that you are strolling through the aisles of the grocery store.
How do you determine the healthiest choices for you and your family?
If you are accustomed to turning the package over to read the food label, I have some interesting information reported by Janet Mullins, UK Extension Specialist for food and nutrition.
Twenty years ago, the food label welcomed a new addition, the “Nutrition Facts Panel.”
This now-familiar source of information about what nutrients are in a food has helped consumers learn more about the foods they eat.
Released by the Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 27, 2014, the proposal is open for comments for 90 days.
The current and proposed formats are shown in the included picture.
The makeover is designed to help consumers more easily and accurately estimate the calories and serving sizes they are eating.
The number of servings in a container, the amount of food in a serving and the calories in a serving, are all more prominently displayed.
Serving sizes would be more consistent with what consumers actually eat rather than a traditional standard serving size.
For example, a serving of ice cream might increase from half of a cup to two-thirds of a cup to reflect an amount closer to what people actually eat.
The percent daily value, a recommended amount of nutrients for good health, will move to a column on the left side of the label.
This format allows a quick scan of how much of the daily-recommended values a serving of food supplies.
The higher the percentage shown, the better a food would be for supporting good health.
In other words, higher percentages mean a food is more nutrient-dense.
Foods, such as broccoli, that contain lots of nutrients per calorie are most nutrient-dense.
The nutrients featured on the nutrition facts panel would change to encourage consumption of the vitamins and minerals that most U.S. consumers need to increase.
Vitamins A and C are moving off the label, although they are still important nutrients that reduce risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Vitamin D is increasingly important in the U.S. diet.
More people seem to have low vitamin D levels and research shows this vitamin may be important in regulation of blood pressure and immune systems.
Iron and calcium remain on the new panel, with new addition, potassium, another mineral important to blood pressure regulation and often found in fruits and vegetables.
If consumers heed the advice to increase vitamin D and calcium intake by eating more dairy foods, these choices would also supply vitamin A.
The amount of added sugars would be stated as part of carbohydrates.
This information helps consumers choose more nutrient-dense foods.
Sugars are commonly added to processed foods as sucrose, fructose or honey.
Simple sugars (as opposed to complex carbohydrates like fiber) contain about 15 calories per teaspoon with little other significant nutritional value.
The addition of this information on the panel would allow consumers to see how much sugar has been added to the food.
Naturally occurring sugars in grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy foods would be listed separately.
The amount of sugar consumed in the U.S. has increased steadily over the past few decades.
A correlation between sugar consumption and the risk of chronic diseases is a current research topic for scientists who study the role of food components on the health of populations.
The amount of calories from fat would disappear from the panel.
This change reflects the current recognition that some fats in the diet promote satiety and good health.
As U.S. citizens followed advice to decrease fat intake over the last 25 years, the prevalence of heart disease declined, but we were eating more calories and gaining weight.
Current advice is that some fats may be health promoting and important to help us control calorie intake.
Fats can also make foods more appealing by improving taste and texture.
After the May 2014, deadline for comments on the proposed new nutrition facts panel, the FDA will consider the comments submitted and issue a final ruling on the proposed changes.
In the near future, U.S. consumers will have new and improved food labels as well as calorie information available on restaurant menus.
Both the new food label and calories on restaurant menus are intended to help consumers make healthier food choices.
However, some of the most nutrient dense foods are available at your farmers market or local produce aisle.
Although fruits and vegetables do not have nutrition facts panels, they provide the most nutrition for the fewest calories.
Foods prepared at home from fresh ingredients are most likely to be lower in calories and higher in nutrients needed by U.S. consumers.
Cooking is a part of daily life that benefits most households through better nutrition, regular schedules, family time and strong social networks.
For more information, call the Extension Office at 336-7741 or visit http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm387418.htm.