Update food labels, experts urge U.S. government

December 12, 2003 in Nutrition Labeling, Nutrition Topics in the News

Update food labels, experts urge U.S. government

Food and supplement labels need to be updated to reflect current nutritional guidelines and should warn, for instance, against eating too much artery-clogging trans-fat, according to U.S. federal advisers.

The current labels are based on 1968 guidelines, which have been updated many times in the past 35 years. Labels in the United States and Canada should be based on the current Dietary Reference Intakes, the Institute of Medicine committee said.

The familiar 'percent Daily Value' figures included in the Nutrition Facts label, which are required on most food products in both countries, are not based on the most current scientific information, according to the National Academies of Sciences committee.

The committee hopes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Health Canada will use these principles to revise the scientific basis for nutrition labels and discretionary fortification. The committee's report, which was issued at the request of the FDA, USDA and Health Canada, said the information should still be based on the average recommended 2,000-calorie diet and expressed as a percentage of those calories.

The committee recommends that Nutrition Facts boxes display a single reference value for each nutrient, and this value should be relevant for healthy individuals ages 4 and older, excluding pregnant or lactating women.

One consumer group criticized this approach, saying that the committee is calculating daily values in a new way, which in some cases will dramatically reduce the apparent need for certain vitamins and minerals. They said current labels are weighted toward groups who need more folic acid or iron - for instance young women. The new recommendations would reflect average values. The committee addressed this issue, saying that it would be impractical to provide Daily Values for each subgroup on nutrition labels.

The consumer group did praise the recommendation that daily values for saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, and cholesterol - all of which clog arteries - be set at the lowest level possible.

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