After 20 years, the labels on nutrition facts on the back of food packages is all set to get a makeover. Food labeling has not been transparent and clear in educating consumers about the ingredients and their quantitites. Since the early 1990s countless studies have been done and our knowledge about nutrition has evolved, now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the labels need to reflect what we know.
Even nutritionists and health experts have their own wish list for what changes they would like to see on labels. They say that the total number of calories should be more prominently displayed and the amount of added sugar as well as the percentage of whole wheat in food should be included. They also want more clarity on serving sizes. Most consumers are unaware that nutrition labels are written per 100 gms of serving. So at the end of the day, your nutritional intake depends on how many servings you end consuming of a particular food.
According to some food experts, the tall health claims that food products claim do not always tell us the entire story. You could find a yoghurt that says 'low-fat' or crackers made with 'whole-grains' and yet that doesn't mean anything. The crackers could have miniscule amounts of whole grain and be packed with white flour. Some countries allow the low fat label to be added if the product does not have more than 3% fat. But normal yoghurt might have 3.5 %fat, so there is hardly any difference. But most calorie-conscious people will unknowingly grab the yoghurt with the low-fat label. You will never believe that the same yoghurt could be low fat, but very high in calories, that actually comes from extra sugar that is added.
So as you can see food labelling is a dodgy area that needs to become more transparent.
Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says there is concern the labels haven't been as effective as they could be.
Here one could safely say that the devil is in the details. Bigger font sizes, stricter rules about health claims, stating the calorific values per serving, order of ingredients in the food label, all must keep pace with the latest we know about food health and nutrition. Only then will the consumer be king.