Updating the Nutrition Information Food Labels

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit public health advocacy group, is proposing changes in the way packaged food is labeled.  The CSPI, with whom I’ve had some disagreements over the years (disparaging movie theatre popcorn and in 1994 calling fettuccine Alfredo “a heart attack on a plate“), nonetheless has played a prominent role in bringing issues of diet and nutrition to the forefront of the public consciousness in America.

Their latest effort is around updating the nearly twenty-year old packaged food label.  This label is designed to provide consumers with the information needed to make health-conscious choices while standing in the supermarket aisle.  CSPI, though, says there are many changes needed to bring the labelling up-to-date and make it an easier tool with more relevant information.

Food Label Here is a look at the before and after versions of the labels.  Notice they remain the same size, so no additional space would be required on packages.  You can click on the picture to see the full CSPI graphic about the labels.

Here are the proposed changes I find most interesting:

  1. Calorie and serving size information is in much larger type at the top of the label.
  2. The ingredient list is much easier to read by printing it in regular type instead of all capital letters.  Also, bullets separate ingredients rather than allowing them to all run together.
  3. Similar ingredients are listed together and shown by the percentage by weight. For instance, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and grape juice concentrate are all forms of sugar and would be listed in parenthesis under the catchall heading “sugars.”
  4. Products containing more than 20 percent of the daily recommendation for fats, sugards, sodium and cholesterol would use red labeling and the word “high” placed next to the percentage.  Easier to avoid foods that are high in these things.
  5. For items made of grains, the top of the lable would prominently display the percentage of whole grains contained in the product.

What are your thoughts about these changes?  I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power and that people are hungry (pardon the pun) for more and clearer information about the food they are consuming.  Updated labels could help give people the information they need to make healthier, more helpful choices.

Additional Links:

A timeline of food and nutrition labeling.
Full CSPI graphic of proposed changes and of the old and new versions of the label.
Original NY Times article that inspired this entry.