America, there are widespread changes going on within our food industry. Not since “low-fat” became a household phrase have so many of our favorite products been affected. These changes involve what’s inside the packaging and on the labels. Here are some of the highlights.
- New food labeling guidelines. By 2018, packaged food labels will have more realistic portion sizes. Added sugars must be listed, but including some vitamins on the label – such as Vitamins A and C – will be optional. And say goodbye to the ‘Calories from Fat’ figure. Instead the focus is put on types of fats, specifically trans fats and saturated fats. Saturated fats are getting much better press than they used to. That’s because volumes of science have debunked the myth that they are bad for us.
- Mandatory GMO labeling. A new Federal law requires food companies to identify products which contain genetically modified ingredients. The food industry estimates that 75 to 80 percent of foods contain GMOs, mainly foods with engineered corn or soy products. Other common genetically modified foods in the U.S. include sugar beets, rice, tomatoes, canola, alfalfa and peas. Until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) completes the process of deciding how this law will be carried out, look for non-GMO ingredients on labels such as wheat, certified sustainable palm oil and beans.
- Eliminating trans fats. In June 2015, the FDA ruled to ban most partially hydrogenated oils – our primary source of trans fats – from the human food supply. This will be effective June 2018. In the meantime, this unhealthy fat may still be in your favorite foods. Since many health experts consider trans fats the worst fats you can eat, it’s smart to avoid all hydrogenated oils. To replace trans fats, many food manufacturers are phasing in the use of Malaysian sustainable palm oil, which is naturally trans fat-free.
- Saturated fat is back (and it’s okay!). Most people still haven’t gotten the word that the USDA’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines exonerated dietary cholesterol, saying there was no link between the saturated fat we eat and heart disease. That’s a relief because healthy fats fill you up, and you may actually consume fewer calories than if you try sticking with a low-fat diet. Tropical oils, no longer demonized for their saturated fats, may also have some health benefits. Palm oil, for example, is rich in vitamin E and A, so it is good for our brain, heart and skin. The Guidelines list both of these vitamins as shortfall nutrients because we’re not getting enough of them in our diets.
- More emphasis on sustainable ingredients. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines also suggest diets high in plant-based foods because they are associated with less environmental impact than the typical American diet. According to EcoFocus Worldwide, experts on green and sustainability consumer trends, most of us approve. An EcoFocus study found that 67 percent of Americans say that using ingredients that are certified as sustainable is an extremely or very positive influence on their shopping choices. With palm oil found more than half of all grocery store products, it’s reassuring that major corporations such as Kellogg, General Mills and Proctor & Gamble have ramped up their commitment to not use palm oil that is associated with such things as deforestation.
Why seeing certified sustainable palm oil on our food labels is positive
There is a surge in certified sustainable palm oil use here in the U.S. because it is natural, non-GMO, trans fat free and contains nutrients shown to be brain- and heart-healthy. Palm oil is also much more earth-friendly than other dietary oils. In fact, it is the most land-efficient oil crop in the world. It requires about 10 times more land to produce the same amount of corn, soy or canola oil as it does to produce palm oil. Most of our palm oil here in the U.S. comes from Malaysia, where it is certified sustainable. Malaysia is a leader when it comes to sustainability initiatives, such as wildlife protection, natural resource conservation and providing for its farmers.