On May 20, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the new standards for the Nutrition Facts Label that has graced the side of almost every food package on supermarket shelves since 1993.
The changes were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity, citing a survey that 77 percent of Americans use the current labels to aid nutrition choices. This makes the labels a key first line in the fight for healthy eating.
But what does the 943-page guidelines mean for the Paleo World?
Change is a Long Road
All new and revolutionary ideas, when presented in the face of current cannon, follow a somewhat predictable series of responses on the way to acceptance.
The first is simple dismissal. Then as the idea grows, a knee-jerk rejection of the idea gains strength that can sometimes lead to intense anger and even violence. Finally, there is a methodical one-step-at-time warming to the idea until it is finally embraced and everyone wonders how we ever believed the “world was flat.”
That path to acceptance can be painfully slow.
Case in point is the current fight between KIND and the FDA, which has forced the FDA to begrudgingly revisit their 30-year-old definition of “healthy.” An outdated definition which labels salmon, olive oil and avocados as unhealthy and sugary cereal as nutritious.
Knowing how long a road it is to acceptance, we at The Paleo Diet© haven’t been holding our breaths waiting for the FDA or USDA to start embracing Paleo principles.
Instead we celebrate small victories on a long road. And between KIND’s win and the FDA’s newly announced nutrition labels we have a lot to celebrate.
The 2016 Nutrition Facts Label… Several Big Steps
Set to be in place by July 26, 2018, Michelle Obama says that with the new label you “will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids.”
Let’s take a closer look at that new label:
While Obama made a point of saying the label does not tell you what foods to eat or what diet to follow, the guidelines still show just how far we’ve come. Principles that The Paleo Diet was once attacked for even five years ago are now foundations of several key changes:
A more realistic definition of “serving size”
While much of the media has overlooked the 170 pages redefining serving sizes, it may be the most important change in the new labels. Years ago when the concept of glycemic index was first being introduced, early pioneers of the Paleo Diet argued that for a true representation of the health impact of a food, we need to look at serving sizes – how much we’d truly eat in a sitting[2, 3]. Hence the introduction of glycemic load.
The importance of true serving sizes is made abundantly clear by the existing labels where food companies have conveniently defined a serving size as whatever works out to about 100-120 calories. The FDA is now requiring that a serving size match what consumers truly eat. In other words, we’re going to start seeing the true caloric impact of our shelf-bought processed foods. I hope you’re ready for 500 calorie potato chip “snack packs.”
Added sugar gets its own column
The 20th century has been marked by a dramatic increase in refined sugar consumption from just a few kilograms per capita annually in the late 1800’s to over 70 kilograms as food companies have realized it’s addictive properties. The impact on insulin concentrations, among other things, has contributed to chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease [4-8]. The new guidelines call out these hidden sugars that serve no purpose except to keep consumers reaching for another handful.
Figures taken from Cordain and original source material[9, 10]
Fat loses its “villain” status
Many claim it’s no coincidence that the rising popularity of the low-fat diet in the 1980s – leading to overconsumption of low-nutrient density carbohydrates – marked the start of the obesity epidemic. In fact, the FDA’s recent refusal to allow KIND to label their bars as “healthy” was based on their outdated definition of healthy as low-fat.
Changing their tune, the FDA recognized that “the type of fat is more important than the amount” in the new label guidelines. As a result, the calories from fat column was removed. The Paleo Diet has been promoting the consumption of healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats for years [2, 12-17].
Potassium and Vitamin D get their rightful place
The old nutritional label had percent daily values of four nutrients – vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. However, recent research has been showing a greater impact of vitamin D and potassium consumption on our health. Especially since deficiency in both is prevalent in western society. Low vitamin D status has been linked to many chronic diseases [19-21]. Likewise, our Paleolithic ancestors consumed approximately 10:1 potassium to sodium. The western diet is less than 1:1. This shift has been linked to poor acid-base balance and osteoporosis, stroke and heart disease [3, 14, 22-25].
The new guidelines replace vitamins A and C with potassium and vitamin D. They also provide actual quantities instead of the more confusing percent daily values.
Steps to Come
There’s still a long road ahead of us. But every step in the right direction is a good one. Let’s take a moment to celebrate this victory and start looking to the next step to acceptance.
 FDA Modernizes Nutrtion Facts Lavel for Packaged Foods. 2016; Available from: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm502182.htm.
 Cordain, L., The Paleo diet : lose weight and get healthy by eating the foods you were designed to eat. Rev. ed. 2011, Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. xv, 266 p.
 Cordain, L., et al., Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr, 2005. 81(2): p. 341-54.
 Davy, B.M., et al., Associations among chronic disease status, participation in federal nutrition programs, food insecurity, and sugar-sweetened beverage and water intake among residents of a health-disparate region. J Nutr Educ Behav, 2015. 47(3): p. 196-205.
 DiNicolantonio, J.J., J.H. O’Keefe, and S.C. Lucan, An unsavory truth: sugar, more than salt, predisposes to hypertension and chronic disease. Am J Cardiol, 2014. 114(7): p. 1126-8.
 Hert, K.A., et al., Decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages improved selected biomarkers of chronic disease risk among US adults: 1999 to 2010. Nutr Res, 2014. 34(1): p. 58-65.
 Hu, F.B. and V.S. Malik, Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: Epidemiologic evidence. Physiology & Behavior, 2010. 100(1): p. 47-54.
 DiNicolantonio, J.J., J.H. O’Keefe, and S.C. Lucan, Added fructose: a principal driver of type 2 diabetes mellitus and its consequences. Mayo Clin Proc, 2015. 90(3): p. 372-81.
 Cleave, T.L., The saccharine disease : conditions caused by the taking of refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour. 1974, Bristol: J. Wright. xii, 200 p.
 Food Consumption (per capita) data system, sugars/sweeteners. 2002 [cited 2004 May 11]; Available from: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/foodconsumption/datasystem.asp.
 La Berge, A.F., How the ideology of low fat conquered America. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 2008. 63(2): p. 139-177.
 Eaton, S.B., et al., Dietary intake of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids during the paleolithic. World Rev Nutr Diet, 1998. 83: p. 12-23.
 Cordain, L., et al., Macronutrient estimations in hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr, 2000. 72(6): p. 1589-92.
 Cordain, L., The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, 2002. 5(5): p. 15-24.
 Cordain, L., et al., The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2002. 56 Suppl 1: p. S42-52.
 Cordain, L., et al., Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr, 2000. 71(3): p. 682-92.
 O’Keefe, J.H., Jr. and L. Cordain, Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer. Mayo Clin Proc, 2004. 79(1): p. 101-8.
 Holick, M.F. and T.C. Chen, Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr, 2008. 87(4): p. 1080S-6S.
 McDonnell, S., et al., Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations ≥40 ng/ml Are Associated with >65% Lower Cancer Risk: Pooled Analysis of Randomized Trial and Prospective Cohort Study. PLoS One, 2016. 11(4): p. e0152441-e0152441.
 Holick, M.F., Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004. 80(6): p. 1678S-1688S.
 Bischoff-Ferrari, H.A., Optimal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels for multiple health outcomes. Adv Exp Med Biol, 2008. 624: p. 55-71.
 Frassetto, L., et al., Diet, evolution and aging – The pathophysiologic effects of the post-agricultural inversion of the potassium-to-sodium and base-to-chloride ratios in the human diet. European Journal of Nutrition, 2001. 40(5): p. 200-213.
 Jehle, S., H.N. Hulter, and R. Krapf, Effect of potassium citrate on bone density, microarchitecture, and fracture risk in healthy older adults without osteoporosis: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2013. 98(1): p. 207-17.
 Tylavsky, F.A., L.A. Spence, and L. Harkness, The importance of calcium, potassium, and acid-base homeostasis in bone health and osteoporosis prevention. J Nutr, 2008. 138(1): p. 164S-165S.
 Young, D.B., H. Lin, and R.D. McCabe, Potassium’s cardiovascular protective mechanisms. Am J Physiol, 1995. 268(4 Pt 2): p. R825-37.