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June 19, 2014

Lori Brothers: Be careful, food labels can be tricky

NEW CASTLE — Have you ever had that eye-popping moment when you stopped what you were eating and looked at the food label fact information?

The shock when you realize you’re not eating something as healthy as you thought you were can deliver quite a jolt. People have told me how frustrating this is, when they thought they were choosing wisely, only to discover otherwise.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a food label you could easily read and understand?

Congress is reviewing proposed label changes to reflect new dietary recommendations. These include scientific and national survey data, as well as input from numerous citizens’ petitions.

I’m not surprised to find out that nearly 59 percenet of consumers have a hard time understanding nutrition labels, according to a Nielsen survey.

The FDA is proposing to update the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods to reflect the most recent public health and scientific information linking diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The proposed label would spotlight serving size to better align with how much people really eat. Calories per serving also will be easier to locate.

It is easy to eat an entire snack bag of a food item without realizing that you’ve eaten two servings instead of just one. This doubles the amount of fat, carbs and sodium you consume. And if there’s three or more servings and you eat the whole bag, look out!

Labels can be tricky. For example, you may be buying a product that is labeled “multigrain,” which may contain more than one grain with refined flour as the first ingredient. I don’t want to get a rise out of you or your bread, but if whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat are not listed as the first in the ingredient list, you’re eating white bread, not matter what it looks like.

Consider this information from to avoid misleading labeling next time you’re shopping:

•Sugar-free products have less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving, but they still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources that can impact your sugar levels.

•Cholesterol free doesn’t mean, literally, no cholesterol. Cholesterol-free products must contain less than 2 mg per serving while low-cholesterol products contain 20 mg or less per serving.

•Be careful of the word “light.”  To be considered a light product, the fat content has to be 50 percent less than the amount found in comparable products. This still can deliver significant fat calories.

While companies must list the amount of nutrients they contain, such as fat and cholesterol, they do not have to disclose the percentage of ingredients, such as fruits and whole grain, according to Center For Science in the Public Interest. In 2012, a California woman filed a class-action lawsuit over Fruit Roll-Ups, which contain “pears from concentrate” and no strawberries (in the case of the strawberry flavor).

But now this label ambiguity is being challenged. The proposed new rules, which are published in the Federal Register, have an extended comment period, until Aug. 1.

“As part of the proposed updates, serving size requirements would be updated to reflect the amounts of food people are actually eating and drinking now as opposed to 20 years ago when the Nutrition Facts label was first introduced. In addition, the format of the label would be refreshed, with key parts of the label such as calories, serving sizes, and percent daily value more prominent,” according to the FDA.

“FDA is proposing a compliance date of two years after the effective date for any final rule resulting from these proposed rules,” according to, where you can go online and register your comments about this issue.

I suspect that manufacturing lobbyists are working hard to comment on maintaining weaker labeling to continue to market their products on a broader scale. The question is, do you have an opinion about how clearly and accurately you are able to discern what you are purchasing and consuming?

You have until Aug. 1 to be heard.

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