Packaged food labeling is one of my research interests and my research interests are informed by my personal dietary goals.
I believe that in order for the population (and me) to apply the nutrition recommendations offered by our government, we need to assess the foods available to us. In order to assess them and choose the best, we need information. We don't need a lot of information, but we need some. We need enough to make an informed, but quick decision among many options.
I prefer the multiple traffic light system for any item, but at this time that isn't likely to occur. The multiple traffic light (MTL) grades a food on imprortant attributes, e.g., saturated fat, salt and sugar. A food gets either a red, yellow or green light in each category. To eat well, you choose more foods that are green from all categories.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has given the FDA a proposal that will make assessing the nutrient value of packaged food easier than our current Nutrition Facts Panel. I have discussed this at length in the past, so this is a bottom line refresher. Instead of a MTL, the IOM suggests that each food item - if it first meets an overall eligibility criteria - be given one, two or three stars for each nutrient (saturated fat, sugar and sodium/salt). An example of something that wouldn't meet the eligibility criteria is candy. Otherwise, a food item could have 1 to 3 stars. ALL products, per the recommendation MUST list the calories per usual(practical) serving. Whether or not something meets the eligibility criteria for stars, the calories per serving must be placed in eye catching text on the front of the package.
It was that part of the recommendation I was thinking of as I shopped for groceries over the weekend. You see, one of the main reasons for the IOM report is to address the confusion caused by food makers and grocers using their own front of package labels. It is amazing how many do not include calories, and instead tell us things we can't intrepret or do not need to know. For example, a grocery store shelf tag in Florida said, "20 carbs per serving". SO WHAT?? That is not enough information to help me. Another example, "contains 10 grams of fat". SO WHAT? Is it the kind of fat that is good for my heart? If so, I want to buy it. But no matter what it is, if it is energy dense (high in calories) I will probably avoid it (unless it is loaded with good fat, like salmon). We need our standardized, scientifically governed front of pack labels and we need them NOW.
My other nutrition information interest is meals away from home - you need to see this new report from CSPI for some jaw dropping belly popping calorie counts.
(If you are curious, my overall field of study is best explained this way - Public Health Law Research specific to Food Policy, specific to Policy that makes unhealthy (nutrient poor) foods less attractive > such as, information, price increases, zoning laws on fast food places, taxes, display bans/restriction, advertising limits.)