Boston College Expert: Revised Food Labels
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Dietitian & Nutritionist
Sheila Tucker is an executive dietitian and nutritionist at Boston College. She is a lecturer in BC's Connell School of Nursing and the Woods College of Advancing Studies. She has more than 25 years experience as both a clinician and educator in nutrition. She is board certified as a specialist in sports nutrition and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Tucker is the primary author of the textbook Nutrition and Diet Therapy for Nurses (Pearson).
After years of squinting at calories counts and wondering what kinds of sugars we’re really eating, the FDA today is unveiling a revamped food label that will simplify things for the consumer by focusing on what’s really important while taking a realistic approach to portion sizes.
“I think it’s about time,” says Boston College Nutritionist, Dietitian, and Lecturer Sheila Tucker, who has more than 25 years of experience in this field and is the primary author of the textbook Nutrition and Diet Therapy for Nurses. “It’s about time for the added sugars to get separated out – that’s what I’m most happy about because there are so many hidden sugars in foods and people aren’t able to discern where the sugar is in foods. People get confused about what’s a natural sugar and what’s an added sugar and this is separating it out in a really clear way.”
The initiative, unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama, makes it easier for consumers to decipher the unhealthy ingredients that are in their packaged foods. As part of the first alteration to labels in two decades, the FDA is also mandating a change in the portion sizes.
“I think focusing on portion sizes is key,” says Tucker, a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “This is really focusing on telling how many servings are in a container in a bolder way, what I call ‘real people portions.’ So for instance, if you were to look at a sweetened beverage like an ice tea or a soda, it might tell you there are two portions in a bottle when in fact most people would drink the whole thing as one portion. So it’s going to take away that hidden math that was not obvious to all consumers; the savvy consumers picked up on that but not all consumers did.”
Another positive consumers will pick up on is the labels will now list nutritional values for potassium and Vitamin D.
“These are two nutrients we don’t get enough of so that’s actually a ‘do message,’” says Tucked. “Instead of don’t do this and don’t do that, it’s pointing out two nutrients we need to get more of because our diets are not very rich in those. Potassium and Vitamin D are very important for the prevention of chronic disease.”
The proposal won’t take effect for about two years but Tucker expects immediate benefits when the new labels are introduced.
“People are so confused about the old label – this label is looking at more total calories which is what’s important, it’s focusing on portion sizes so that it’s real people portions as opposed to what the manufacturer puts on there for a portion - it’s a portion you would actually eat. And it’s separating out the added sugars so consumers can see how many teaspoons of added sugar might be added to their food whereas before we couldn’t tell that.”
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