Why You Should Question the FDA’s New Nutrition Labeling Mandate 

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Miriella

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Miriella

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its final rules for nationwide nutrition labeling on menus and vending machines. Calorie counts will now be required to be labeled on food and alcoholic beverages that are menu-listed. The guidelines are stricter than expected, as alcoholic beverages, which were not mentioned in earlier drafts, were added to the final guidelines.The FDA’s goal is to combat the obesity epidemic by making Americans more aware of how many calories are actually in their food.

With a year to comply, establishments with at least 20 locations, ranging from KFC to The Cheesecake Factory, and even up-and-comers such as McDonalds and Starbucks, will be required to post calorie counts on all menu items, calorie boards, and drive-thru displays.

While this might not prevent some people from getting double-meat on their foot-long, the FDA is hoping by knowing the calorie counts some will change their dietary habits.  This mandate applies to: 

  • Restaurants
  • Movie theaters
  • Pizza parlors
  • Amusement parks
  • Grocery stores
  • Anywhere where ready-to-eat meals are sold
  • Food trucks
  • Vending machines 

Menu labeling actually became law in 2010, as part of the Affordable Care Act, but the final rules were delayed for three years, in part because of aggressive pushback from pizza and movie theater chains, due to arguments over details  such as what constitutes as a single serving size–an argument many of us make with ourselves as well. Because pizza.

Pizza and movie theaters are not the only ones disappointed with the release of the final rules. According to The National Grocers Association, their disappointment lies in how it will “impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members.” (As the labels on cigarettes clearly bankrupted the tobacco industry…)

While we consumers and business owners could sit here all day and argue about whether we’re for or against the act of labeling, we might be better served by digging further and questioning what we’re trying to label in the first place.

The Problems with the New Nutrition Labeling Mandate

While there are many debates and studies on whether or not labeling is effective, the emphasis on labeling calories suggests:

  • That the general public is aware of what a calorie – or, say 1,000 – means and how it translates into health
  • That the Calorie is a good guideline in determining the quality of food when it comes to a healthy choice
  • That volume of calories is an accurate quantifier of a food’s nutritional value 

The Calorie Myth

Are all calories created equal?  Jonathan Bailor’s The Calorie Myth discusses whether calories should be the focal point of eating and exercise. According to Jonathan in a special WellnessFX 2-part webcast, “They absolutely shouldn’t. The mythology is the cause of the confusion and obesity epidemic. It’s not that calories don’t exist.”

Bailor further explains that “the challenge with calories is that if you look at the actual science of what we see in metabolic disorders, it’s not a willpower problem, it’s a biological dysfunction/disease that takes place in your brain, gut, and hormones. What causes that disease is not calories, it’s everything else in food. For example, Diet Coke. no calories, does that mean it’s good for you? An avocado has a lot of calories, does that mean it’s bad for you? Calories are just a measure of energy. What ACTUALLY changes your body, what transforms the system itself, what inflames your brain, de-regulates your hormones and destroys your gut – is more than calories.”

So what The Calorie Myth, Jonathan Bailor, and many others, expose is that it’s not just how much you eat that is causing obesity, weight gain, and preventable chronic diseases, but specifically what you eat.

What about the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that play an important role in keeping your body healthy and functioning? Currently, that is not where the FDA’s new regulations are. 

“Telling someone just to eat less is like saying the way to stop lung cancer is to smoke shorter cigarettes. It’s missing the point entirely. You don’t solve a problem by having less of the cause. The cause of obesity is processed, edible garbage. We need to focus on eating more of the right kinds of foods.”

It’s What’s In Your Food that Matters

More and more studies demonstrate how food impacts so many aspects of your physical and mental health:

Putting it All Together

Consider an avocado, as we recommend in how fat doesn’t make you fat. Even though they are full of fiber and good-for-you monounsaturated fat, if you only look at caloric value, by the FDA’s guidelines, they are a more “unhealthy” food than something lower in calories, such as a cookie.

Maybe you personally know that an avocado is better for you than a cookie, but many people don’t, and may get fooled by the simple calorie measure.

Other nutrient information – fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and total protein – is only made available upon request.

While this is a sweeping change to increase awareness and achieve a healthier population, just how aware will the public be if the education is limited?

We’re advocates of more information and access to data, obviously. The Atlantic even puts it well, summarizing, “Extensive calorie listings alone won’t curb obesity. But that doesn’t mean arming customers with more information—even if some of them don’t even notice it—is a waste of time.”

Is the FDA advancing the public’s education on health and nutrition or keeping it stagnant?

What do you think? Are the new regulations and labels at least step in the right direction, with limited information, better than none at all?   Or do the regulations need an overhaul? Would you rather not have labels at all?

What do you think of the FDA’s final rules for nutrition labeling?
I completely agree with the FDA’s decision.
I am ok with the FDA’s decision of calorie labeling, but I would like labeing to include additional information, such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, sodium, etc.
I don’t care either way.
I don’t agree with the FDA’s decision to label these food items.
I strongly disagree with the FDA’s decision to calorie label and believe it will hurt public health education.
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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.