Food & Drink

Helpful ways to label packages

There’s a facelift coming for food labels. It’s about time.

The Food and Drug Administration has announced it is working on new proposed rules for the nutrition facts and serving size information on food packages. The current label format has been in place since the regulation went into effect 20 years ago.

Prior to that, nutrition information on packaged and processed foods was voluntary. Before the late 1960s, nutrition labels were largely absent, since most meals were prepared from scratch at home.

Today, fresh produce and fish are still exempt from labeling rules.

Most people find food labels hard to decipher. Milligrams and grams of sodium, sugar and fat are hard to put into perspective.

And puny portion sizes set up a cycle of denial for many of us who are more likely to eat the entire package of chips or cookies.

It isn’t clear yet precisely what changes the FDA is going to recommend. But here’s my wish list, shared by many nutritionists:

I can visualize six teaspoons of sugar in a bowl of cereal. Grams are harder to get a handle on.

For example, a product made with 10 percent whole wheat wouldn’t impress me as much as one in which 75 percent of the grain was whole.

To improve national nutrition literacy, we need food labels that are easier to read. It’s a change to look forward to this year.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.