In the 1990s, the Food and Drug Administration recognized that manufacturers were making it difficult for consumers to compare the nutritional facts of products. So to compare apples with apples (no pun intended but sort of funny, wouldn’t you say?), the FDA set serving sizes based on American’s eating habits that they identified from surveys conducted in the 1970s and 1980s. In essence, this allowed one bag of potato chips to be compared with another because their serving sizes were the same. A person could easily see which had more calories, fat, or carbohydrates.
For the past year or so, the FDA has been considering reassessing the serving size portions of most foods. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s about time, since today’s serving sizes are based on data from 30 – 40 years ago? Let’s look at a few foods to better stress this point.
Ice cream. One serving size is ½ cup. Do you know how small that is? If you don’t, walk in to your kitchen and look at your measuring cups. Seriously. How many people do you realistically think only scoop out a ½ cup?
Potato chips and pretzels. A serving size is 1 ounce. Do you actually count out 18 chips or 19 pretzel rings? Most people don’t.
It’s not just snack foods. Cheddar cheese - one serving is 1 ounce. If there are 8 servings in a block of cheese, how many of us actually cut it into 8 pieces and then ration out 1 piece for a sandwich, a snack, or a salad?
Rice. A serving size is ½ cup uncooked which makes about 1 cup cooked. Pull out your measuring cups again….
Monster Energy Drink. An 8 oz. can is two servings. How many people look on the label for the number of servings? How many drink ½ of it and put the other ½ in the refrigerator until the next day?
The list could go on and on…..
So the good news is that the proposed new labeling will better reflect what most people eat. And that will in turn allow consumers who want to make healthy and well-informed choices to do so, reflecting one of the current wellness trends.
This brings up two questions.
The first – Will the FDA actually move forward with this? I ask because they talked about it in 2005 and then again in 2010, but it never had enough momentum to accomplish anything tangible. If there is support now, how long will it take to implement? I know that based on past precedent, labeling changes will be phased in over a number of years. Just as important is the question of how the new serving sizes will be established.
The FDA obviously thinks it’s their responsibility to help consumers make educated decisions. Why? Perhaps because two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Or perhaps because over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the percentage of overweight children in every aged-group from 2 – 5 years of age through teenagers. This leads to the second question - What do you think? Is this the answer?