Twenty years ago, the food label welcomed a new addition, the “Nutrition Facts Panel.” This now familiar source of information about what nutrients are in a food has helped consumers learn more about the foods they eat. The current and proposed formats are shown below:
The makeover is designed to help consumers more easily and accurately estimate the calories and serving sizes they are eating. The number of servings in a container, the amount of food in a serving and the calories in a serving, are all more prominently displayed. Serving sizes would be more consistent with what consumers actually eat rather than a traditional standard serving size. For example, a serving of ice cream might increase from 1⁄2 cup to 2⁄3 cup to reflect an amount closer to what people actually eat.
The percent Daily Value, a recommended amount of nutrients for good health, will move to a column on the left side of the label. This format allows a quick scan of how much of the daily recommended values a serving of food supplies. The higher the percentage shown, the better a food would be for supporting good health. In other words, higher percentages mean a food is more “nutrient dense.” Foods, such as broccoli, that contain lots of nutrients per calorie are most nutrient dense.
The nutrients featured on the Nutrition Facts panel would change to encourage consumption of the vitamins and minerals that most U.S. consumers need to increase. Vitamins A and C are moving off the label, although they are still important nutrients that reduce risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Vitamin D is increasingly important in the U.S. diet. More people seem to have low vitamin D levels and research shows this vitamin may be important in regulation of blood pressure and immune systems. Iron and calcium remain on the new panel, with new addition, potassium, another mineral important to blood pressure regulation and often found in fruits and vegetables. If consumers heed the advice to increase vitamin D and calcium intake by eating more dairy foods, these choices would also supply vitamin A.
The amount of added sugars would be stated as part of carbohydrates. This information helps consumers choose more nutrient dense foods. Sugars are commonly added to processed foods as sucrose, fructose or honey. Sugars contain about 15 calories per teaspoon with little other significant nutritional value. The addition of this information on the panel would allow consumers to see how much sugar has been added to the food. Naturally occurring sugars in grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy foods would be listed separately. The amount of sugar consumed in the U.S. has increased steadily over the past few decades. A correlation between sugar consumption and the risk of chronic diseases is a current research topic for scientists who study the role of food components on the health of populations.
The amount of calories from fat would disappear from the panel. This change reflects the current recognition that some fats in the diet promote satiety and good health. As U.S. citizens followed advice to decrease fat intake over the last 25 years, the prevalence of heart disease declined, but we were eating more calories and gaining weight. Current advice is that some fats may be health promoting and important to help us control calorie intake. Fats can also make foods more appealing by improving taste and texture.
In the near future, U.S. consumers will have new and improved food labels as well as calorie information available on restaurant menus. Both the new food label and calories on restaurant menus are intended to help consumers make healthier food choices. However, some of the most nutrient dense foods are available at your farmers market or local produce aisle. Although fruits and vegetables do not have Nutrition Facts panels, they provide the most nutrition for the fewest calories. Foods prepared at home from fresh ingredients are most likely to be lower in calories and higher in nutrients needed by U.S. consumers. Cooking is a part of daily life that benefits most households through better nutrition, regular schedules, family time and strong social networks.
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 270-522-3269.
Information for this article obtained from Janet Mullins, Extension Specialist for Food and Nutrition, University of Kentucky; College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and from http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm387418.htm.
Yellow Squash Ribbons
4 medium yellow squash
1 cup red onion, vertically sliced, very thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Shave the outer part of the squash into ribbons using a vegetable peeler, avoiding the core and seeds. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add squash, onion, and garlic. Cook approximately 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Remove from heat and add seasoning blend, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
Yield: 4 (1/2 cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 90 calories; 4 g total fat; 2 g saturated fat; 10 mg cholesterol; 260 mg sodium; 10 g total carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 5 g protein
Green Beans with Ham and Basil
3⁄4 cup low-fat sun-dried commercial tomato dressing
1 pound fresh green beans
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped ham
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Heat sun-dried tomato dressing in a large skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Add fresh green beans that have been washed and trimmed, onion, garlic, and ham. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until beans are crisp-tender and ham is cooked. Top with basil and garlic salt. Stir, cover, and continue to cook for 1-3 more minutes.
Yield: 8 (1/2-cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per serving: 120 calories; 15 mg cholesterol; 860 mg sodium; 8 g total carbohydrate; 5 g protein
New Potato and Asparagus Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 cups new potatoes that have been cut into 1/2” chunks
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup low fat milk
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1” pieces
1⁄2 cup reduced fat sour cream
Fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
Pour oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Cut chicken into 1⁄2” pieces. Cook chicken and diced onion in oil for about 3-5 minutes, or until chicken is done and onions are golden brown. Stir in salt, garlic, zest, and half of the lemon juice. Add potatoes and vegetable broth and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Stir in the milk. Add the asparagus. Simmer over medium heat, partially covered, for about 15 minutes until the asparagus is tender. Stir in the sour cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 8 (1-cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 270 calories; 7 g total fat; 2 g saturated fat; 30 mg cholesterol; 760 mg sodium; 36 g total carbohydrate; 4 g dietary fiber; 8 g sugar; 16 g protein