Applause for our representatives who have written the FDA to something better about qualified health claims (to read the actual claim, scroll down to the end of the text, just above the signature). These, in case you have forgotten, are claims that companies can put on food product labels as long as the claim is accompanied by a disclaimer. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but here’s the one for corn oil: “Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim (my emphasis). To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.” Maybe the letter will induce the FDA to review this policy?
Currently browsing posts about: Labels
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is requiring chain restaurants to post nutrition information on menu boards–not just calories, as in New York, but also fat, carbohydrates, and sodium. Carbohydrates but not sugars? All that? It will be interesting to see how this works in six months when the rule goes into effect.
The FDA must be hearing lots of complaints about food labels and health claims because it is asking for comments on the best way to calculate the percent daily value (DV), and on what nutrients get displayed. It is considering removing “Calories from Fat,” for example, and requiring the amount of monounsaturated fat to be listed. Want to comment on these ideas or suggest others? Go to this FDA site. As for health claims, the FDA plans to reevaluate the ones for soy and heart disease, fat and cancer, antioxidant vitamins and cancers, and selenium and cancers based on recent research. To comment, go to the Federal Register.
According to FoodProductionDaily, my newsletter source for information about food and nutrition in Europe, the U.K. Food Standards agency is changing its red-yellow-green labeling system to distinguish added sugars from those naturally present in foods. This is a good idea and I wish the FDA would do the same thing, but one of the reasons given doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. According to this report, the Food Standards Agency agreed to do this because “sugars derived from fruit, such as fructose, are generally lower in calories, while added sugars are perceived as unhealthier.” Added sugars may be perceived as unhealthier, but sugars are sugars and they all–sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, and all the rest–have the same number of calories, roughly 4 per gram. I think there is a better reason: naturally occurring sugars come with everything else that’s in fruits and vegetables, and added sugars don’t.
I have long talked about trans fat as a calorie distracter. People think “trans fat-free” means “calorie-free” when it most definitely does not. Whatever replaces trans fats will have just as many calories–130 per tablespoon, meaning that each tablespoon is 5% of a day’s average calorie intake. That’s why I either laugh or cry when I see “zero grams trans fat”
on the labels of junk foods. Trans fats raise the risk of heart disease a bit more than do the saturated fats that occur naturally in foods. But trans fats are unnatural and unnecessary and it’s good to get rid of them. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal explains how food companies are struggling to find replacements that do not increase the amount of saturated fat in processed foods. This, as it turns out, is not so easy to do. I discuss all this in the fats-and-oils chapter of What to Eat, so I’m happy to see the WSJ take it on.
USDA economists (a national treasure, in my opinion) have just produced an analysis of health (“no trans fat!”) and ecologic (Fair Trade, free-range) labels. Their conclusion: most of the time, the labels benefit food producers more than consumers. Why am I not surprised? Much evidence suggests that they confuse consumers about the issues (which is why I went to the trouble of writing What to Eat).
The FDA has just announced that it will be revisiting the Daily Values on food labels so here’s your chance to weigh in on whether you think they are good, bad, or indifferent in helping people decide whether a food product is worth eating. These, of course, are complicated. Lower is better for saturated fat and sodium, but higher is better for fiber and vitamins. Is there a better way to do this? Now is the time to state your opinion to the FDA. How? Submit comments according to these instructions.
The FDA is meeting this week to consider a red, yellow, green system for labeling foods according to their degree of healthfulness. Here’s what the New York Times has to say about this. This is, of course, would be much like the Hannaford supermarket “follow the stars” program, about which several of you have strong feelings (see comments under entries for Supermarkets and Labels). In the early 1990s, Center for Science in the Public Interest did a fold-out pyramid designed to be put on school cafeteria tabletops. This listed foods on green (anytime), yellow (once in awhile), and red (seldom) sides of the pyramid. As is always the case with these kinds of approaches, the line between categories is a thin one and subject to much argument and manipulation. The FDA proposed something much simpler about five years ago: to put the entire number of calories on the front of packaged foods. What a good idea! It still hasn’t happened. Don’t hold your breath for this one either.