Did Michelle Obama Just Say I Can Eat More?

Michelle Obama just made the announcement. Nutritionists have won their battle! After 20 years, the nutritional label on packaged foods will be different. The concern was that nutrition labels were not user friendly and unless you did some FBI-quality investigation, you wouldn’t know how much of the package you could eat per serving and what kind of nutrients you would get from that serving.

I consider myself to be a pretty prudent shopper but I shop for myself. If I was shopping for a family, with kids tugging at me, then I might not have the time to scrutinize every label and make comparisons. So the nutrition labels were a challenge for busy moms-on-the-go who probably have better things to do that squint to make out all the tiny numbers on the back of a box.

Cut to today and the announcement that nutrition labels will be getting a makeover. Where the serving size was originally based on what is recommended based on your dietary needs, the serving size will now be based on what people generally consume.

On the left, the current label. On the right, the proposed update.
Source: cnn.com

So a serving of soda was previously considered to be about 8 oz. That’s the bottle size that used to be sold in the 1950s, back when people were generally slimmer. If you go into any grocery store or corner-store, I challenge you to find two containers that contain 8 oz or less. Instead, so called single-serve drinks are sold in 12 oz. or 16 oz. or even 20 oz. bottles or cans. So the serving size is now generally regarded to be 20 oz because that’s what the beverage companies are packaging. But does that mean that’s what a serving should be?

A serving of ice cream will move from half a cup to one cup of the good stuff. But since the serving size has changed, does that now mean eating a full serving is okay? Sounds a little confusing, especially when what I really want is to eat the whole bowlful. If we’re going with a serving being what everybody else is eating, I guess that’s ok since all my friends are eating a bowlful too. But what do I do when they all want to jump off the bridge? 😦

Another proposed change is to simplify the calorie line. Currently, the labels indicate total calories and calories from fat, to indicate how much fat you are getting from a serving of the food. The proposal is to do-away with the Calories from Fat and just report the calories. if you know about Fat-free and Reduced-fat foods, you know that because we derive a lot of flavor from fat sources, to remove the fat from a recipe means you have to add the flavor by salt or some other seasoning. At home, if I skimp on the butter, I’ll add peppers and onions and garlic. In mass production, like food processing plants, skimping on the butter generally means pouring on the salt. If you want proof, compare the labels from a can of soup and it’s fat-free alternative. You’ll notice the jump in the sodium content.

I am all for change, and I think it should be easier to read the labels and figure out what is included. But removing the “Calories from Fat” and just replacing that with “Total Calories” might not be sufficient information for people on restricted diets.

I am titillated by this statistic that CNN used to support their news article.

The increase is good news as the United States struggles with an obesity epidemic. Some studies have shown that people who read labels eat healthier.

People who read nutrition labels eat healthier? Yeah, but… But just because people who read labels eat healthier doesn’t indicate that they are healthy because of the labels or that changing the labels will make more people eat healthier. It’s probably more likely that people who generally eat healthy are conscious of their choices – food, exercise, sleep, etc. – and that they make healthy choices that reflect their overall views. If I read the label and see that the box of cookies contains 12 servings and I still eat the whole box, does it make me healthier because I read the label first? I didn’t think so.

The other problem is that there is a whole host of written information that indicates how many servings of specific foods you can/should eat each day. So a diet might say you can eat two servings of bread, but the diet was written with the assumption that a serving was one slice of bread. Now in 2014, changing the serving to be two slices means that when I read something from the previous era that says I can eat two servings, I think I can eat 4 slices.

Or when I think that I should drink the entire 20 oz juice just because it’s a (generally considered) single-serving of juice. Except that the 20 oz container has more sugar than anyone should consume in an entire week.

Counting calories is not the only, or perhaps even the best, method to achieving a healthy diet. A balanced diet, that contains the right proportion of protein and carbohydrates and fats, is the only route to healthy eating.

So yeah, I could probably eat cupcakes for all my meals, but 2,000 calories of cake is not the way to train for a marathon. Statistics aside, reading nutrition labels alone will not help you to RUNWRIGHT!

Regardless, change is a-coming. And companies have up to two years to reflect the change on their products. Watch what happens.

How do you feel about the change in the nutrition labels?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I read something about the change in labels and was quite surprised. I know there have been critics to how hard they are to read or to understand. (Yes even though I don’t live in the US I read about this stuff).
    To me, they were always user friendly enough, and actually I’d rather a serving be smaller, for example half a cup of ice cream, and I can just multiply by 2 if I eat a whole cup, than the serving size be larger and then start dividing.. for example a 20 oz of soda is 2 and a half cups, so if I drink only one cup I’d divide by 2 and a half the number of calories? It’s just easier to multiply.
    And yes I think it’s kind of a ‘permission’ to eat more, psychologically it’s so much easier to justify eating a whole cup of ice cream or the whole 20 oz of soda because the label says that’s the ‘normal’ serving size.
    I like that they are making the important numbers a bit larger, like calories and servings per container.


    1. runwright says:

      I’m impressed that you know all this stuff. When I lived in Jamaica, I don’t think I ever paid attention to labels. But I guess athletes always know the things to pay attention to. You’re right, the larger numbers are definitely better for easy reading.


  2. roberta4949 says:

    I have no problems with reading labels, this change will just cost the companies millions of dollars to implement, I think the money could of be better spent like better benefits for the workers, or better working conditions for the workers or maybe a pay raise? for me I had to figure out why I craved the bad stuff over the good stuff (the higher gi carbs over the healthier lower gi carbs) it is not a matter of willpower I am finding out, it is a matter of letting the body control it fully and providing it with the nutrients that are missing, for me it was vitad3 vita c and b vitamins, some minerals, and eating plenty of high fiber foods, once I started to get the nutrient deficiency reversed the need for willpower not to overeat on ice cream ended. once in a while my body want some lower quality carb sources but I think it is because of pms, after a couple of days of giving in the cravings stop and I am back on track again. not that I was off it for real, after all the body knows better then me what it needs I better not disappoint it by fighting it, lol, you make a lot of good points about proper labels are not the problem it is people who are health conscious already read them and understand them, and those who are not health conscious do not.


    1. runwright says:

      THANKS for stopping by and reading the blog, Roberta. Of course the approximately 2 billion dollars that they say it will cost to make the changes could be better spent but we both know, if left to their own devices, big companies don’t just spend that money on improving things for their workers. Perhaps if we could find a way to pool the money and funnel it into programs to teach people how to eat healthier, choose foods that don’t need labels at all because they are fresh from the farm.
      Sounds like you are very knowledgeable in healthy eating matters. Keep it up!
      Hope you keep reading.


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