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A Makeover for Food Labels

By Tara Parker-Pope | The New York Times

Features of the proposed new food labels (click to see a PDF of the full graphic).

Nearly two decades ago, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, requiring packaged foods to carry a detailed nutrition facts label.

For the most part, the label has an easy-to-follow format that lists calories, serving size and ingredients. But now the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest wants to give the food facts label a makeover.

The center says the makeover is necessary to clarify and highlight important parts of the label and also to prevent unnecessary and misleading words from confusing consumers. Among the suggested changes to the food label:

  1. Put calorie and serving size information in larger type at the top of the label so it’s immediately clear how much you are eating.
  2. Make the ingredient list easier to read by printing it in regular type instead of all capital letters. Use bullets to separate ingredients rather than allowing them to all run together.
  3. List minor ingredients and allergens separately from the main ingredient list. Highlight allergy information in red.
  4. List similar ingredients together and show the percentage by weight. For instance, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and grape juice concentrate are all forms of sugar and should be listed in parenthesis under the catchall heading “sugars.”
  5. Use red labeling and the word “high” when a product has more than 20 percent of the daily recommendation for fats, sugars, sodium or cholesterol.
  6. Make it clear which sugars are added to the product versus those that occur naturally.
  7. Display prominently the percentage of whole grains contained in a product.
  8. List caffeine content.

To look at an example of the suggested changes, click on the image above.

I was especially surprised by how much easier it is to read the ingredient list when lower case letters and bullets are used. I also liked the larger calorie information at the top of the label.

To learn more about the history of food labeling, here’s an interesting timeline from the Fooducate blog. And to learn more about the C.S.P.I. report, click here.

What do you think of the proposed label changes? Do you have suggestions for improving the food facts label?

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