Major change in US food labels is likely to help healthiest the most

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Changes coming for food nutrition labels

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters) - The biggest overhaul of U.S. food nutrition labels in more than two decades is likely to help improve the diets of the most health-conscious consumers, but others may need more convincing.

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Public health advocates welcomed the new rules but said some of the groups most at risk for obesity and diet-related illness may not change habits without other measures to discourage sugar consumption, such as taxes on sugar and food advertising warning labels.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday announced new Nutrition Facts packaged food label rules that include disclosure of how much sugar is added to thousands of processed foods ranging from soda to spaghetti sauce.

Related: Food nutritionists won't eat:

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Major change in US food labels is likely to help healthiest the most

Diet Soda

"I cut out diet soda from my life about five years ago. I came to the conclusion that I didn't need a dose of artificial ingredients on a daily basis, and I would be much better off drinking water and plant-based beverages, such as home-brewed iced tea, hot tea (herbal and regular), and coffee during the day. I don't believe there's enough science today to indicate that the diet beverages are harmful, but I also don't think there is any true benefit to including them. About a year ago I tried a diet soda on a plane — after not tasting one for several years — and I found that it tasted absolutely awful. So, I guess I haven't been missing much!" — Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life

Carnival Corn Dog

"You'll never catch me eating a carnival corn dog -- so creepy. I know wayyy too much about what's lurking inside of fatty, processed hot dog meat: corn syrup, nitrates, fillers, fat and more fat. In fact, there's very little protein. Place it on a wooden stick, cover it in refined cornmeal batter and fry it up in a vat of oil? No thanks!" -- Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., founder of Nourish Snacks and nutrition/health expert for NBC's Today Show

Pretzels

"I'm not saying I would starve to death before eating one, but they are definitely a food I avoid even when there are very [few] choices available. Here is why: They are basically a big bowl of sugar! The refined-carb product contains no nutrients that are beneficial for health or provide satiety. And they are easily overeaten for this reason -- they have no fiber, protein or healthy fat. I always imagine a bag of pretzels as the same thing as a big bag of jelly beans. Those sugar calories affect your hormones and cause you to gain. And for what? A boring pretzel? No, thanks." -- Keri Glassman, RDN, CDN, of Nutritious Life

Fat-Free Whipped Topping

"The one food I would never eat is fat-free whipped topping. I find it tastes like the artificial ingredients it is made of, and I don't care for it. If I want a creamy dessert topping, I use a small dollop of fresh whipped cream -- a little goes a long way to make a dessert special -- and you cannot beat its taste. Or, to lighten that up naturally and deliciously, I will fold in some plain Greek yogurt, for a topping that is wonderful with any fruit-based dessert." -- Ellie Kreiger, RDN, nutritionist, TV Personality and award-winning cookbook author

Blended Coffee Drinks

"I am an avid coffee drinker who enjoys a morning and afternoon java run, but the assorted-flavor, sugar-loaded, blended coffee drinks are definitely something that I stay away from. These blends can go up to 81 grams of sugar!!! That amount of sugar is the equivalent of drinking two cans of soda, roughly 20 teaspoons of pure sugar, which can spike your insulin and build fat around your waistline. Aside from the sugar content, these drinks can have up to 510 calories, which can be a whole meal for some people." -- Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., author of Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet

Imported Farm-Raised Shrimp

"I make a conscious effort to purchase and consume sustainable seafood, for both environmental and personal health. Imported shrimp are often unsustainably farmed and laden with chemicals and antibiotics. Sticking to this can certainly be a challenge, since 94 percent of the shrimp we consume in the U.S. is imported!" -- Kristy Del Coro, M.S., R.D., CDN, senior culinary nutritionist at SPE Certified

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

"Many of my clients are surprised to hear that most reduced-fat peanut butter is not necessarily a healthier version of regular peanut butter. While both regular and reduced-fat peanut butter contain about the same amount of calories (200 calories for two tablespoons), the reduced-fat variety contains more refined carbohydrates and sugar. Why? The fat that would be in the reduced-fat peanut butter spread is replaced with ingredients like corn syrup solids, sugar and molasses (read: even more sugar), plus starchy fillers. Those add-ins boost the spread's sugar content to 4 grams and its total carbs to 15 grams. Compare that with natural peanut butter, which has just 1 gram of sugar and 6 grams of carbs." -- Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., CEO of F-Factor, author of The Miracle Carb Diet

Nacho Cheese 

"The nacho cheese at any concession stand, like a football game, ballpark, or fair. The nacho cheese is just a sauce that usually doesn't use real cheese, and it grosses me out, as it always looks the exact same and I know it is fake and cheaply made." -- Mitzi Dulan, Author of The Pinterest Diet and Team Nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals

Crickets

"Lots of people are jumping on the cricket bandwagon, but you won't be catching me eating cricket products. I know that they are an amazing protein source that's great for the planet, but I just can't bring myself to eat them. I think I could choke them down if I was in the wild with Bear Grylls, but as a post-workout snack, I just can't go there." --  Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color

Raw Oysters

"I won't eat raw oysters on the half shell. ... I don't trust them to be safe. Plus, they are slimy and I don't get to chew them, just swallow them. That's no fun." -- Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., Boston-area sports nutritionist and author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Pre-Baked Toaster Pastries

"The serving size for one toaster pastry, with most flavors, averages about 200 calories and 15 to 20 grams of sugar. But most people eat two pastries (which come in a typical package), doubling the calories and sugar. These toaster pastries also have little fiber and protein, two nutrients that should be included in a healthy breakfast." -- Jim White, R.D., CPT, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios

Bacon

"Although I admit that I enjoy the aroma and sounds of sizzling bacon, and I find it amazing that our country has such a fascination with this breakfast meat, I'm still happy, however, to take a pass on consuming it. Sixty-eight percent of bacon's calories come from fat, half of which is the saturated type. Each strip of bacon contains almost 200 milligrams of sodium, and most people don't stop at one strip. But hey -- even though everyone should have a splurge now and then, it's not just the nutrient quality that bugs me about bacon. Bacon comes from the long layers of fat from the pig's belly, running parallel to the rind. Not a pretty picture ... and not on my plate." -- Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, owner of BetterThanDieting.com

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Curbing excess sugar consumption is key to whittling waist lines in the United States, where more than one-third of adults are obese, and to reducing the prevalence of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Roughly two-thirds of adults already are trying to cut back on their sugar intake, said Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group, a New York-based market research company.

"This might actually have an effect. Sugar is the focal point for consumers right now," Seifer said.

Food industry groups, many of which had fought the new rules, said they would comply with the changes. That included the Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry group whose members include food and beverage companies, which said that consumers could be confused by the changes and would need education.

A review of research from several countries, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition in 2011, found a consistent link between the use of nutrition labels and healthier diets, but wide differentiation in how groups responded to labels.

"It's a useful tool for those who are really educated and concerned, and has zero effect on the population most at need," said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Popkin and Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, said labels would be more effective when combined with other measures.

Chile has banned the use of toys to market food to children, for instance, and Mexico, the U.K. and some U.S. jurisdictions tax soda. A new San Francisco law requires health warning labels on public advertisements for sugary beverages.

"I don't think anyone expects that the labels themselves will be sufficient. Lots of other interventions will be necessary," Brownell said.

Experts noted that big behavioral changes could come if the new rules prompt food makers to rework their recipes. After the FDA began requiring trans fat information on nutrition labels in 2006, many food makers responded by cutting artificial trans fats, which increases heart disease risk, from their products.

By the FDA's own estimates, artificial trans fat consumption fell 78 percent between 2003 and 2012.

(Additional reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)


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