Food Labels: Facts Up Front

July 12, 2013

An Interview with Supermarket Dietitian Allison Yoder

I’m a nutrition consultant for various food and beverage companies, but my opinions are my own.

Reading and understanding the Nutrition Facts Label on food products is an important part of making healthy eating decisions, but it is no easy task. Thankfully, supermarket dietitians are being hired more regularly to work on-site to help consumers navigate the plethora of food items in every aisle and provide nutrition education. More and more these days you’ll find a variety of supermarket dietitian store tours and nutritional education materials like counseling handouts and food product scoring systems. One exciting new tool that has been added to packaging is the Facts Up Front label. To learn more about this and other nutrition education resources for shoppers, I recently spoke with registered dietitian Allison Yoder about her work as a Hy-Vee supermarket dietitian and member of the Facts Up Front Advisory Panel.

As a member of the Facts Up Front Advisory Panel, can you tell us what the impetus was behind the Facts Up Front initiative?

As part of her “Let’s Move!” anti-childhood obesity initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama asked those in the food and beverage industry to move farther, faster in our efforts to provide consumers with the products, tools, and information they need to construct a healthy diet for themselves and their families. In 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) developed Facts Up Front – a front-of-pack label that brings important information from the Nutrition Facts Panel and displays it in a simple and easy-to-use format on the front of food and beverage products. Products bearing the Facts Up Front label are currently in stores, and GMA and FMI are working with their members to continue growing the number of products that feature Facts Up Front in the marketplace.

In your work as a supermarket dietitian at Hy-Vee, do you see shoppers looking at the nutrition labels on food packages? Do you think the Facts Up Front label will help people make better decisions about what to put in their shopping carts?

Educating consumers in the grocery aisles is important to help them make informed choices when purchasing food products. Many shoppers are looking at the nutrition label on food packages when purchasing food products; however, not all shoppers use this information. The Facts Up Front label will help because it allows consumers to make better decisions on product selection by providing them with straightforward information needed to make informed food choices when grocery shopping.

The Facts Up Front label highlights information about calories, saturated fat, sodium, and total sugar – nutrients the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting in the diet. In most cases, these four nutrient facts are always presented together as a consistent set. In addition, manufacturers may also post two “nutrients to encourage,” including potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron. These are nutrients that are needed to build a nutrient-dense diet, and can only be placed on a package when a product contains 10 percent or more of the daily value per serving of the nutrient and meets the FDA requirements for a “good source” nutrient content claim.

How do you explain the amount of sugar on food labels to shoppers? How do you help them differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars?

In foods, sugar can be naturally occurring – meaning already present in the foods – or sugar can be added. Examples of naturally occurring sugars are lactose in dairy products and fructose in fruit. The body does not distinguish between naturally occurring versus added sugars in the foods you eat, which is why the Nutrition Facts Panel and Facts Up Front label list total sugars on the label. Consumers can monitor their added sugars intake by looking at the ingredient list. According to the American Heart Association, names for added sugars that appear on food label ingredient lists include agave nectar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, and syrup.

In addition to helping consumers find the total amount of sugars in a product, I help them understand that ingredients are listed in order by weight from greatest to least amount. Added sugars can definitely be part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation.

How does the Facts Up Front Nutrition Calculator help consumers make practical choices based on their needs?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found in its recent literature review that front-of-package labels are most effective when bolstered by an education program. Shoppers need additional information and resources that are simple and easy to understand, as well as unique to their individual needs, to make informed choices. FactsUpFront.org was launched to provide consumers with new tools and resources to help them increase their nutrition knowledge, understand their individual nutrient needs, and put this information to use when shopping. The Nutrition Calculator is one example of these tools; it helps individuals determine the specific calorie and nutrient needs for themselves and their family members. Consumers can then apply their knowledge of individual needs to understanding how a food or beverage fits into their overall diet, by looking at the values displayed in Facts Up Front or on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

What other tools and resources do you use to help educate shoppers when they are purchasing groceries?

The Facts Up Front program is compatible with existing in-store nutrition programs. Hy-Vee utilizes the NuVal® System, a food-scoring system that helps consumers see – at a glance – the nutritional value of the food they buy. Developed by a recognized team of nutrition and medical experts from leading health organizations and universities, the NuVal® System uses a mathematical algorithm to score food on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the NuVal® score, the higher the nutritive value.

Our registered dietitians also use the Nutrition Care Manual® developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It is a diet and professional practice manual providing reliable, reputable, and current evidence- and knowledge-based nutrition information for consumers.

Through Facts Up Front, NuVal®, and in-store nutrition programs, consumers now have access to more nutrition information than ever before.

You can read more about Supermarket Dietitians in this piece by @RachelPomerance and more about Facts Up Front from fellow registered dietitian @eatsmartbd.

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