June 3, 2016

What does the FDA label change mean for you? Three things…

In May, FDA instituted a major and long awaited change in how our food gets labeled. There were three major changes that were proposed:

a. How front-and-center the labels are: Today, they are in the back and in a font size that is not easy to read. The labels will still be in the back but will have larger font sizes so that it is easy to read

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b. Reflect the portion sizes that are relevant for today’s world: Why does this matter? Because the calories and other information shown on the packaging is based on the portion size. Therefore, from a food company’s perspective, the small the portion size the less calories and other stuff a person consumes.

But, of course, we don’t eat according to what the suggested portion sizes are. Updating the portion sizes is definitely the way to go.

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c. Separating added sugar: Today, if you look up any label it is hard to know if the sugar in the food is natural – i.e. did it already exist in the food naturally – or was it added. People often assume that most of the sugar is natural since most foods contain sugar. This clear split will help the consumer evaluate how much sugar has been added. Quick question – how much sugar is in your blood sugar normally?

Ready for the answer? … it is ONE tablespoon. Now imagine when you drink a sugary drink which has 10 teaspoons of sugar, how hard your pancreas needs to work to get the sugar level down. So, you may ask, why is natural sugar not a problem? Who says it is not?

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d. It is, but if you consume a fruit in its natural state there is a lot of fiber that comes with it. Therefore the sugar is release slowly in your blood stream. But with added sugars it is all in one go! That is why eating an apple is not the same as drinking a low sugar drink.

What does it mean for the food manufacturers and how will they react? For starters, this only takes into effect in 2018. So you still have almost 1.5 years of potentially eating sugary, high carb food. Secondly, ask yourself, how often does the knowledge of calories affected your choice of food?

Sadly, for me, it often does not and I suspect for many Americans it won’t make a large impact. Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of people who look at food labels and make their decisions but there are many more to whom it won’t make an impact.

Finally, there are ways the sugar industry can get around it. For e.g., artificial sweeteners are not called ‘sugars’, so they could add a lot of that and call it sugar-free. It may cost them more to do that but they will likely pass it on to you.
Or don’t you ever forget the marketing power of the food companies. They spend billions in making the food look enticing and wrapping it up so well.

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When you are making a split second decision, your emotion rather than your logic will take control of your choice. Did you know the food companies also spend billions trying to figure out the exact proportion of sugar, salt and other added items to get you hooked?

In the face of all that, how is a consumer even supposed to win this battle? Are you doomed, one way or another? Is the system broken? It does not have to be that way.

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There are several things you can do. Make a list of items beforehand on what you will buy in a grocery store and only buy those. The idea being, if you make your list early then you will not be influenced by pretty packaging that are meant to entice you.

Tip: make your list right after you eat your food. You make better decisions when you are not hungry. And you will buy less junk food.

Secondly, be accountable to someone. One way to make good decisions is to be accountable to someone. Anyone…be it family, friends or a health coach. A health coach will give you the right advice that suits your way of life. Pick up the phone and give them a call.

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Until now, I have spoken as a pessimist. Let me take a more optimistic view. The food industry can actually adapt and change. The industry can respond positively and put money and effort towards creating healthier products.

Instead of spending money to tweak the right formula that sells the most, help us get rid of the sugar. Maybe a company will stand for that and we will reward them appropriately but purchasing their product.

I will be careless if all I did was make the food industry the villain here. I believe this and I want you to do the same – you and only you are responsible for what you put inside your body. Eat naturally, locally and not too much.

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If you do that, you don’t need to worry about what labels say or don’t say. You have the power but you often act as if the industry is solely responsible for the entire epidemic. It is not. We, you and me, are equally responsible.

How we pay determines where the industry decides to spend its effort. If we don’t buy crap they won’t sell it. How about that the next time we all decided to blame the industry.
I like the power to be with me and you and it IS.

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