Madrona Nutrition and Fitness: Recipe and Nutrition Guide

Madrona Nutrition and Fitness:
Guide to Wellness through Holistic Diet
and Lifestyle

Rachel Fiske
Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant,
Certified Personal Trainer

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Proposed "Label Plan" may be misleading...

Recently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report which concluded that traditional nutrition labeling on packaged foods are difficult to read by the general public and lead to misinformed food choices. Now, along with the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture, they are recommending a simplified food labeling system be mandatory for processed and packaged foods. In theory, some sort of system along these lines could, in fact, be helpful to those buying these foods. However, the proposed labeling guidelines are a bit skewed (which shouldn't be surprising considering the big government agencies that are behind it, and typically have the interest of food manufacturers instead of public health at the forefront of their decision making...but this is another subject entirely).

A New York Times article written on the subject recently stated that, "In a report...the IOM called for a simplified label that would go on the front of food packages that would show the number of calories per serving and contain zero to three stars or checkmarks to indicate how healthful a food was." But the question is, who is defining 'healthful' here??

Foods will be rated on 3 anti-nutrients: Sugar, Sodium, and Saturated and Trans-fats. The sugar part, I agree whole-heartedly. As I've written about in the past, refined sugar (along with refined flour, especially), is the number one contributor to cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and all types disease and systemic inflammation in the body. As far as sodium goes, if you are eating a diet high in processed/packaged foods, you are most likely getting too much sodium. However, if you eat a whole foods diet, adding some sea salt to your diet (especially Celtic or Himalayan) will ensure (among other things) that we maintain a healthy potassium/sodium balance.

Lastly, the Saturated and trans-fats category is the one I have the most trouble with. First of all, the fact that these two are even in the same category is troublesome. Without a doubt, trans fats reek havoc on our bodies, as they are man made compounds produced because they have a longer shelf life (aka, cheaper) yet our body has no way of processing them. Alongside the above-mentioned refined carbs and sugars, trans fats are right up there on the list of causing disease. However, good quality saturated fats are healthful and necessary for brain and cell function, and can actually work to balance our cholesterol levels and reduce our risk of heart disease.

So, the proposed labeling plan may not be all bad, but it is too simplistic. Lets look at a food they would give a 3-star rating (the most healthful):

Wheat Bread: yikes. Its true that grains have been the base of the USDA food pyramid for years, and this is largely due to catering to wheat manufacturers (one of the biggest cash crops in the US). If you've read my past articles, you now know that processed grains contain compounds that interfere with critical mineral absorption (such as zinc which is vital to immune health, and magnesium that is essential for heart health and relaxation). Common whole wheat bread is really not much different than white bread. Wheat bread generally contains processed wheat, the germ and the brain have been removed for shelf-life, leaving only the starchy endosperm. If you are going to eat bread, opt for whole grain, sprouted varieties. The Ezekiel brand has some good options (but remember the last article about grains!).

Raisin Bran: This gets 2 stars (next best). Ingredient list:


Need I say more?? 3rd and 4th ingredients are sugar and high fructose corn syrup. And this food gets 2 stars by this labeling system...can you imagine what gets 1? 

In short, yes, there are many changes that need to be made to our current nutrition labeling system. More than anything, more education needs to exist around how to really read food labels. General rule of thumb: if you can't pronounce it and/or couldn't make it in your own kitchen, probably not the best choice. Stick to the perimeter of the store as far from the processed and packaged foods as possible, and you won't have to worry about decoding silly rating systems in the first place.

Further Reading and Resources:

NY Times Article:

IOM website:


  1. This anti-carbohydrate stuff you keep spewing is so dangerous, and needs more evidence from actual studies (not anecdotes!) to support it. Please read this great overview from Harriet Hall to get an idea of my thoughts on the matter:

    The evidence just isn't there yet to be so vigorously promoting a low-carb diet, especially since it would be contraindicated in many individuals!

    Also, could you please direct me to the study that supports the claim that sprouted grains are better than non-sprouted grains?

    Finally, I have never seen any evidence that there is a nutritional difference between sea-salt and regular salt. Could you please direct me to the study/evidence from which you drew those conclusions?

    Your opinions on the value/accuracy of the new food labeling laws are interesting from a consumer perspective (figuring out how to communicate nutrition information to the public is challenging and should be discussed thoroughly), but I just don't see evidence of a rigorous scientific basis for your nutrition claims. Anecdotes don't don't try to convince me with anecdotes!

  2. Also....where is the study showing that magnesium promotes relaxation? I've never heard of such a thing...