It’s very likely, unless we can make our voices heard at the FDA. Action Alert!
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a new initiative earlier this year called the Nutrition Innovation Strategy. It is a broad-based effort to improve the health of Americans through diet, mainly by improving and updating the information on food labels—including devising a definition for the term “healthy.” While there are things that could be done to improve food labeling, the government should not be in the business of defining what is and isn’t “healthy.”
One concrete proposal that would drastically improve food labels is listing sugar in teaspoons rather than grams. In our previous article on this topic we noted that many purported “health” foods contain exorbitant amounts of sugar—such as a large flavored coffee containing 25 teaspoons of sugar (three times the sugar of a 12 ounce cola), or a cup of low-fat yogurt containing up to 12 teaspoons of sugar. By being able to hide the sugar content of food in grams—a meaningless measurement for most people—Big Food is getting us addicted to sugar, leading to obesity and other health problems. Listing sugar in teaspoons would empower consumers to avoid these junk foods.
Defining what “healthy” is, however, is another matter. This is a project that the government is not equipped to deal with. First of all, our crony capitalist system means that Big Food and other special interests would inevitably influence this definition, robbing it of any meaning. Would Kraft Singles (not cheese, but rather a “cheese product”) be considered “healthy”?
Secondly the government has shown repeatedly that it is not up to date on the latest nutrition science; as witnessed in the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans that, for instance, continue to warn Americans to limit cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat despite the latest science suggesting this is nonsense. The government’s guidelines also recommended a mere 600 IU of vitamin D per day, whereas the Vitamin D Council recommends up to 5,000 IU.
Finally, even if the government, by some miracle, established a decent definition for what is and isn’t healthy, free of the influence of special interests, it wouldn’t be of much use. “Healthy” is a concept that is difficult to generalize; what’s healthy for you at a given time may not be what someone else needs to be healthy. We all have our individual needs that would almost certainly not be captured by a single definition of “healthy.” Some people can eat dairy, others can’t; some people are more intolerant of gluten than others. If you’re an athlete or live an active lifestyle, your dietary needs are different.
The real answer is that it is up to individuals to educate themselves about their specific dietary needs and make choices to optimize their health. This requires accurate food labels that give consumers necessary information to make informed decisions—such as listing the sugar content of food in a meaningful measurement like teaspoons.
To ascertain what is “healthy,” it would be best to employ the services of a professional nutritionist such as one found at the Board for Certified Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). These trained professionals are the leading alternative to the food industry-funded Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the trade group for Registered Dieticians (RDs). Nutritionists are often better qualified than RDs: BCNS-certified nutritionists are master’s or doctoral-level specialists, while RDs are only required to complete a four-year degree. Nutritionists and RDs also have different philosophies. Nutritionists have a comprehensive knowledge of how nutrition impacts the whole body, focusing on medical nutrition therapy, metabolism and biochemistry, and work primarily in private practice settings conducting one-on-one nutrition counseling. RDs tend to focus on institutional diets and food service management–developing diets for hospital patients, school food service programs, and nursing homes.
Action Alert! Write to Congress and the FDA, telling them that sugar should be listed in grams and the government should not be defining what is or isn’t “healthy.” Please send your message immediately.