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What’s Really In Your Food?

Health claims and nutrition labels on food packaging are about to become less confusing—finally!

Health claims and nutrition labels on food packaging are about to become less confusing—finally!

Good news for food-label readers (which should be all of us): New legislation is in the works to give food packaging language a much-needed overhaul. Called the Food Labeling Modernization Act, it’s currently under review by Congress, but could take a year or more to be approved, after which companies would have a few more years to comply. Christine Tseng, RD, owner of Be Well Nutrition in New York City, explains what’s under consideration and how to shop smart in the meantime.

Serving Size & Calorie Counts

What’s Next: Serving sizes will start to reflect how much we really eat for a meal or snack. In addition, calorie counts will be larger, bolder, and harder to miss.

For Now:Serving sizes today don’t fit how most of us eat. (Does anyone really only scoop out a half-cup of ice cream?) So look at calories per serving, but also at serving size and servings per container.

Added Sugars

What’s Next: New labels will list total sugars, plus a breakout of added sweeteners—think honey, agave, and table sugar—so you can easily see which sugars occur naturally, like fructose in fruit, and which do not.

For Now: To find hidden sugars, which may increase your chances of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, look for terms such as “high-fructose corn syrup” and “fruit juice concentrate.”

Whole Grains

What’s Next: Foods containing whole grains or multigrains will have to list the percentage of each grain.

For Now: Grains that aren’t whole (such as ground, cracked, or flaked) are less nutritious. Buy foods with multigrains or whole grain listed first or second on an ingredient panel. Avoid those that lead with enriched and unbleached wheat, or all-purpose flour.

What ‘Natural’ Really Means

What’s Next: Foods that want to carry the “natural” label will have to comply with rigorous, as-yet-to-be-determined standards.

For Now: Check ingredient lists for foods that have undergone chemical changes, such as corn syrups or corn meal, hydrogenated oil, soy proteins, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, monosodium glutamate, and artificial colors.

June 2014