Nutrition labels are about to get another makeover, but don’t kid yourselves: it’s not going to solve the bigger problem.
The Food and Drug Administration announced on Friday it has finalized the design for new food labels.
“Our goal is to help people make better informed food choices that support a healthy diet,” the post reads.
One of the biggest changes is adjustments to serving sizes, a change designed to reflect what a typical serving size is in real life, not in theory.
CBS This Morning reported, for example, that instead of a third of a cup that we might currently see listed as a serving size of ice cream, the new label might show a more realistic serving size — realistic meaning what the typical person actually eats, not how much they should consume — of two-thirds of a cup.
When is the last time you stopped at two-thirds of a cup of ice cream?
When I used to buy ice cream, I’d scoop ice cream into a mug; it was less ice cream than I’d serve myself if I used a bowl. But it was still plenty more than any two-thirds of a cup!
Serving size is just part of the problem. A big part, no doubt, but just a part.
Hidden sugars are another. By the time the rollout of the revised labels is complete, some time in 2019, you’ll be able to see how much sugar is really in the food you’re eating, something that could make a big difference for diabetics.
But even the revelation of hidden sugars won’t solve the whole issue at hand.
An editorial in The New York Times begins this way:
If you’ve ever eaten a handful of potato chips only to find out that, according to the package, you’ve just consumed two full servings and way more calories than you thought, help is on the way.
Let me just stop them right there. Let me ask two questions:
Who is eating a “handful” of potato chips before checking the nutrition label?
What good does it do, after all, to check the label after you’ve consumed the food? You’ve already blown it. And if you’re one of those types who insist they can just exercise a “little harder” to make up for the added calories, I hope you know the extent to which you have your work made cut out for you.
Losing a pound involves burning 3,500 calories. To put that in perspective, it would take a 155-pound person six hours on a treadmill going five miles per hour to burn that many categories. A six-hour jaunt on a treadmill might be enough for me to swear off potato chips for the rest of my life…assuming I survived those six hours of hell to begin with.
If you’re worried about nutrition, why are you picking up a bag of potato chips to start with?
Surely you see the obvious disconnect here.
If I’m such a health freak that I’m actually going to take note of the nutrition labels and tabulate my percentages of the recommended daily allowances of what-have-you, I’m going to be enough of a health freak that I will have avoided the aisle of potato chips well enough that I’d never come close to those products.
For that matter, if I’m that much of a health freak, I’m most likely going to avoid what’s down the aisles of the typical supermarket altogether. I’d focus instead on produce — lots of produce — and meat. And lowfat dairy. And whole wheat grains. A good bit of that stuff doesn’t even come with nutrition labels.
But the majority of that stuff won’t have me contemplating a six-hour jaunt on a treadmill, either.
It’s not that redesigning food labels is a bad idea.
Frankly, it’s a great idea. It has the potential of helping us all get into better shape.
But revised food labels are like a great power tool: it can help you build something great…if you actually take the time to build it.
When that great power tool sits in your garage untouched, that next great project you’re contemplating while you’re sitting there in your Barcalounger won’t go anywhere.
We have to be willing to use the new nutrition labels. Having them is one thing. But being smart with them is a different matter entirely.
It takes a large serving of common sense.
And an even larger serving of willpower.
No nutrition label redesign is going to give us either of those.