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FDA to revise nutrition label

Jan. 24, 2014 @ 07:03 AM

WASHINGTON — Those nutrition labels on the back of food packages may soon become easier to read.

The Food and Drug Admin­istration says knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years, and the labels need to reflect that.

As the agency considers revi­sions, nutritionists and other health experts have their own wish list of desired changes.

The number of calories should be more prominent, they say, and the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat in the food should be included. They also want more clarity on how serving sizes are defined.

“There’s a feeling that nutri­tion labels haven’t been as effec­tive as they should be,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with.” For example, he says, most of the nutrients are listed in grams, the metric system’s basic unit of mass. Jacobson says people don’t really understand what a gram is.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, says 20 years ago “there was a big focus on fat, and fat undif­ferentiated.” Since then, health providers have focused more on calories and warned people away from saturated and trans fats more than all fats. Trans fats were separated out on the label in 2006.

The nutrition facts label “is now 20 years old, the food envi­ronment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed,” says Taylor, who was at the agen­cy in the early 1990s when the FDA first introduced the label at the behest of Congress. “It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic.”

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