The person that decided a half-cup would constitute one serving of ice cream must have been lactose-intolerant, or at the very least, they had a bad sense of humor.
In the twenty years that have passed since the Food and Drug Administration deemed one tennis ball as the national standard for a scoop of this dairy dessert, a lot has changed – namely, the size of the average American waistband. More than a third of adults in the United States are obese and the harmful health implications of these extra pounds are widespread. Finally, the government is starting to take notice.
Within the nascent weeks of 2014, the FDA proposed a series of changes to food labeling that would reflect the modern American diet and aim to help Americans reduce their caloric intake. While many government interventions in the dietary arena are often somewhat ridiculous and overreaching, this measure has the potential to make a positive (though likely small) impact.
Numerous minor alterations will be made to the Nutrition Facts label, including bolding the font of the serving size and calorie count, but the most important change is the addition of a new line indicating the “added sugars.” This line would differentiate between sugars naturally existing in the food product as a result of ingredients (such as strawberries) and artificial sweeteners.
America has a big sweet tooth – and some even bigger cavities. As our national sugar intake has increased over the years, so have American rates of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Though the correlations between what we eat and how it affects our health are widely contested, the root of the issue lies in the fact that we hardly know what we’re eating anymore.
When I settled in last night with a bowl of Cookie Dough and Brownie Chunk Fudge-Swirled Vanilla Ice Cream, I was aware that I was not going to be consuming the suggested serving size and I was aware that the amount of sugar in a few spoonfuls surpassed the recommended daily allowance – but I was making a decision to eat my dessert in conscious, sinful bliss.
The downfall of American health comes from misunderstanding healthy food options just as much, if not more than from excessive indulgence. A simple meal, such as yogurt with granola, seems like a good choice, but a closer inspection of the nutrition labels may reveal that I might as well have had the ice cream for breakfast. The proposed changes to nutrition labels will make it easier for concerned eaters to make smart decisions in the supermarket.
In an effort to win over our taste buds and thereby gain repeat customers, food companies are making their products sweeter. Meanwhile, we’ve continued to eat these products in increasingly large portions, completely unaware of the invisible dangers lurking within. Although those that don’t already read food labels might not be affected much, the FDA’s proposed demarcations will help those that do care to realize just how much sugar is being added to their food.
Unlike the brouhaha that erupted over New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s ban of big bad sodas, the FDA has taken a different approach toward rehabilitating the American diet that is more likely to be efficacious. The nutrition label proposal is aspirational where the soda prohibition was tyrannical.
It all comes down to a matter of individual freedom – something Americans are very touchy about. Bloomberg’s ban took away the right to drink a giant serving of soda; the FDA proposal gives people the option to make an informed decision for themselves. Everyone wants their constitutional right to pursue happiness, even that means pursuing gallons of soda and ice cream on the path to an early death.
It will be months before we know whether or not the FDA’s proposal will be enacted and still longer before we can analyze its impact, but I have hope. A change to nutrition labels isn’t the cure – our national obesity is much more serious than that – but it may help to inspire and inform Americans as they strive for better health without forcing them to do anything ridiculous, like eat only a half-cup of ice cream.