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Simpler nutrition labels urged for grocery products

Grocery

Supermarket shelves could be getting a nutritional version of the government’s Energy Star label.

A new report ordered by Congress recommends a standardized and intuitive labeling system for food that makes the healthfulness of the product easier for consumers to grasp.

The front of each bottle of sauce, bunch of carrots and every other grocery product should show a simple calorie count of a single serving size, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested.

Also, each label would feature up to three “points,” denoting saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars, which are associated with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. The tags would be developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The more points a product has -- represented by symbols such as stars or checks -- the more healthful it is, according to the report. For example, 100% whole-wheat bread would feature three points, while an oat and peanut bar would get one.

A surge in nutritional data on packages over the last decade has confused shoppers, according to the study, which found that it is “time for a fundamental shift in strategy, a move away from systems that mostly provide nutrition information without clear guidance about its healthfulness.”

Customers in other areas of the food industry are also craving more detail. Chains are beginning to spell out menu items that are meat- or allergen-free. Grazin’, an upstate New York diner, recently became the first U.S. restaurant to be certified “Animal Welfare Approved" because of its use of humanely raised, pasture-fed and locally sourced livestock.

The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. was not impressed. The trade group, representing food and beverage companies, said it would keep backing the Facts Up Front labeling system it launched with the Food Marketing Institute in January.

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— Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A shopper confronts choices in the dairy case. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

 
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