Campaign promotes nutrition label smarts

nutrition labellingNEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration have announced the availability of two new tools designed to help consumers use the Nutrition Facts label on foods to make healthy and nutritious food choices.

The tools are "Make Your Calories Count," an interactive online learning program, and a new Nutrition Facts Label brochure. Both are available and downloadable at www.fda.gov.

"These tools will empower consumers to be better informed to make better and wiser food choices," Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, Acting FDA Commissioner, said at a news briefing announcing the self-help aids.

"We are also committed to our partnership with the food industry to help make certain that we are providing helpful options," he added, "so that we can begin to stem the problem of obesity in this country and the problems associated when people misuse food."

"Make Your Calories Count" provides information to assist in planning a healthy diet while managing calorie intake. Sections of the program include: Size Up Your Servings and Calories; See What's In It For You; and Judge If It's Right For You.

"As part of the program, we are introducing the general guide to calories," Amy Odegaard, of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, explained. Basically, the guide denotes a single-food item with 40 calories as low-calorie; one with 100 calories as moderate-calorie; and a food with 400 calories as a high-calorie.

"This is a simple tool that consumers can use when choosing a food item," Odegaard said. The program includes an animated "Labelman" who guides consumers through a series of educational exercises on the food label.

Another section of the program zeros in on nutrients and introduces a quick guide to percent daily value (%DV). The guide deems any nutrient at 5%DV or less as low in that particular nutrient, whereas 20%DV or more of a particular nutrient is considered high.

"For simplicity," Odegaard said, "the program presents two nutrients that should be limited -- saturated fat and sodium -- and two nutrients that should be consumed in adequate amounts -- fiber and calcium."

The third module is designed to be "a little more complex," Odegaard said, "because it asks the consumer to compare and evaluate the serving size, calories and nutrients on similar products to determine which product is the better choice for them."

© Reuters 2006