By: Robert M. Califf, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs
I caught up with you last time about food safety, so this time let’s talk nutrition. Nutrition is a priority area of work at the FDA. And despite our increased understanding of the science underlying federal nutrition recommendations, eating patterns in the U.S. are not meeting federal dietary guidelines. As a result, we are facing an ever-growing epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis, with many of these problems associated with combinations of poor nutrition and obesity.
Our understanding of the role nutrition plays in the lives of everyday Americans continues to advance, and I believe that we’ll see an acceleration of this knowledge as our ability to assess what we eat and the relationship of our diet to health outcomes is advancing at a fast pace.
A simple example is that we know that the type of fat consumed is more important than the total amount. Focusing more on nutrition gives us the real opportunity to significantly improve public and individual health. We are committed to finding new ways to help reduce the burden of diet-related chronic disease through improved information about wise nutritional choices given our unique position and authorities.
Nutrition Labeling, Updating the Criteria for “Healthy” and Sodium Reduction, Added Sugars
The White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health issued last year prominently features FDA nutrition initiatives, including front of package labeling, updating the criteria for “Healthy,” and facilitating reductions in both sodium in the food supply and intake of added sugars.
Some signature achievements in nutrition in recent years to assist all Americans in identifying and making healthier food choices include:
- Finalizing the first major update to the Nutrition Facts label in over two decades, with a refreshed design and updated information, including the declaration of added sugars. Empowering consumers with information on added sugars in products carrying a Nutrition Facts label is critically important, as diets that are high in calories coming from added sugars are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Virtually eliminating intake from artificial sources of trans fatty acids, which are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Providing much needed transparency regarding calorie consumption. Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home. Research indicates that menu labeling efforts can result in an average reduction of around 30-50 calories consumed per order, which over a year could translate to avoiding a 3-5 pound weight gain.
- Finalizing the short-term sodium reduction guidance, which is a critical first step in an iterative approach to reduce sodium across the food supply. The American diet, particularly driven by sodium in processed and prepared foods, is super high in sodium. Reducing sodium to reasonable levels in the diet is an important modifiable risk factor to reduce hypertension and cardiovascular disease risk. This action has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and illnesses in the coming years.
We try to make it easy to learn how to make informed choices about your food. Start healthy habits today by using FDA’s tools and tips to help you identify nutritious choices.
Catch up with you next time.