It can be tricky to accurately track calories and nutrients for healthful eating — unclear serving sizes and hidden ingredients can derail even the best efforts. Poor diets can lead to chronic disease.
It’s well documented that the majority of people in the United States eat too much saturated fat, salt and sugar and not enough fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making it easier to understand what’s in your meals by improving labels for prepared foods and beverages to better reflect the latest thinking on nutrition and healthy eating.
It’s the first major revamp of the system in more than 20 years. The agency is also working to ensure that foods meet certain criteria for sodium, sugar and saturated fat content before being labeled as “healthy.”
The FDA has recently pushed for easier-to-read nutrition labels. Serving sizes and calories are in larger, bolder font and labels now list more comprehensive data on added sugars.
Labels are no longer required to list “calories from fat,” since the type of fat is more important than the amount. You’ll also no longer see Vitamins A and C content on packaging, since deficiencies of these vitamins are now rare.
Meanwhile, more information on added sugars now appear on labels because consumption of these sugars should be limited. Vitamin D and potassium are also listed because Americans do not always get the recommended amounts.
“The new rules can help people better control what they’re putting into their body and stick to their health goals, whether that’s weight loss, controlling sugar levels or managing blood pressure,” says Arame Motazedi, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Carlsbad.
“They’ve done a better job of bolding and highlighting the important information. But, of course, it still comes down to being mindful and paying attention to what you’re eating,” she says. “With a breakdown, you can see for yourself: ‘Even though I had salads all day, that bag of chips put me over my goal.’”
Dr. Motazedi encourages people to read labels carefully and choose foods that align with the Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, which emphasize whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. And when in doubt, cook from scratch.
“If you’re able to identify every part of your meal, right down to the spices, that’s going to be the best way to know what you’re putting into your body,” she says. “Anything cooked at home or made at home is going to be better than outside food just because you are able to control your content and you know exactly what’s being used.”
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.