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food-labelEarlier this year we blogged about some upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts labels found on packaged foods and beverages. Among the proposed changes are clearer information about fats and sugar, updated daily values and serving size requirements, and a new design that would highlight certain elements deemed significant to public health. But is it enough? Many health officials say no.

The Associated Press recently spoke with former FDA Commissioner David Kessler and former CDC official William H. Dietz, who voiced their concerns that the new labels still won’t be enough to help consumers decide which foods are really good for them. They and other experts would like to see even more improvements, including changes to the following:

  • Nutritional Values: Even though more consumers are reading nutrition labels than ever before, experts worry they still may not have a clear enough understanding of what those labels mean or what foods they should really be eating (i.e. real food vs. processed junk). Experts would like to see the FDA offer clarity beyond just listing numbers and technical terms.
  • Ingredients Lists: How often do you just glance over those long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce—picking out the one or two you think might be most important? Experts believe if the FDA kept it simple (for example, listing all forms of sugar as a single ingredient) it would be easier for consumers to understand just what might be ending up in their bodies.
  • Sugar Amounts (and Types): Although the proposed changes include making a distinction between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars (those added in during processing and preparation), health officials believe it’s still not enough. They want to see a daily value created for sugar to help people determine how much sugar they should really be eating on a daily basis.
  • Front Labeling: Several years back the FDA talked about making changes to the front of food packaging in addition to changing the Nutrition Facts labels, but the effort has since been put on hold. Experts agree that change is still needed and suggest highlighting the main ingredients up front, along with the total number of calories and possibly how many additional ingredients there are.

Finally, a number of health officials would like to see more context when it comes to how much of certain nutrients folks should be aiming for in their daily diets. Because it’s hard to think in percentages, experts think clearer labeling could help people determine exactly how much of a certain ingredient they are consuming and whether or not it is more than they need.

Needless to say, the food industry disagrees with many of the recommended changes and believes they provide more information than necessary. With the public comment period on the proposed changes now extended through August, it looks like only time will tell what the food labels of the future may look like.

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blueberriesA healthy heart has a lot to do with a healthy diet, and summer is the perfect time to load up on fresh fruits and vegetables that not only taste delicious but also provide oodles of benefits for this important organ. Here are six fruits that might surprise you with their heart-healthy benefits, plus one remarkable veggie you may want to get to know a little better—for your heart’s sake!

  • Blueberries (and Strawberries)
    Nutrient-rich blueberries contain a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol that has been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels and protect against artery damage. And their heart health benefits are even greater when paired with strawberries, according to a recent Harvard Medical School Study. The study found that eating more blueberries and strawberries was associated with a 34% lower risk of heart attack.
  • Papayas
    Loaded with fiber, potassium and beneficial vitamins, the papaya is a powerful ally when it comes to promoting healthy cardiovascular function. The good stuff in papayas supports healthy blood cholesterol levels and may help reduce the buildup of fat in your arteries which can ultimately lead to a heart attack. In addition, papayas contain a nutrient called choline that helps reduce chronic inflammation, which has been shown to contribute to heart disease and poor health.
  • Tomatoes
    The tomato is one of few foods that contain lycopene—an antioxidant belonging to the carotenoid family. According to the National Institutes of Health and other sources, lycopene supports the blood vessels surrounding the heart and has been associated with heart disease prevention and a lower risk of stroke. Tomatoes are also rich in beta-carotene, folate, potassium, flavonoids, vitamin C and vitamin E, which together promote healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • Watermelon
    Did you know that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just one cup of watermelon has 1.5 times the amount of lycopene as a single large tomato? It has to do with its red color, and experts say watermelon plays an important role in the fight against heart disease. Experts recommend storing it at room temperature before slicing to get the most antioxidant benefits.
  • Banana
    When it comes to nutrients that are good for the heart, the banana has quite a few—including fiber, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6. In studies, bananas have been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels and improve cardiovascular health, as well as significantly lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke. Bananas are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, which supports healthy cholesterol levels.
  • Artichoke
    They may require a little extra work when it comes to cooking and preparation, but artichokes are well worth it for their heart health benefits. This unique veggie is chock full of potassium, which studies have shown helps maintain normal heart rhythm as well as promote healthy blood pressure. In addition, the natural plant nutrients in artichokes promote healthy cholesterol and help reduce the risk of stroke, studies have shown.

So as you wrap up your shopping list in anticipation of your next trip to the market, plan on adding at least two or three of these fruits and veggies to your weekly menu. Look for recipes and snacking ideas online, and enjoy a heart-healthy summer!

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