Carbohydrate definitions under further FDA scrutiny

Hoping to make the "net carb" debate easier for consumers to understand, and to publicise the link between dietary fibre consumption and decreased blood sugar levels, National Starch has petitioned the Food & Drug Administration to modify carbohydrate content labelling on foods.

The company wants fibre content removed from the total carbohydrates listing and made into its own independent bolded line within the Nutrition Facts box.

"We want to help consumers understand the difference between fibres and carbohydrates — that's what the petition is all about," said Rhonda Witwer, National Starch business development manager in nutrition. "It's hard for consumers to understand that more fibre can equal fewer net carbs."

The proposal would put the US model in line with the labelling requirements in many other major markets. The proposal is based on a report from the National Academy of Sciences, which differentiates digestible carbohydrates from non-digestible carbohydrates in its evaluation of physiological effects.

The FDA is also being asked to more rigorously regulate the terminology used to market low-carb foods. The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) wants FDA to come up with qualifications for monikers such as "low carbohydrate" or "carbohydrate-free."

"GMA petitioned FDA to set labelling standards for carbohydrates so consumers would have accurate and consistent information about carbohydrate content," explained GMA spokeswoman Stephanie Childs. "It would also allow manufacturers to flag products' carbohydrate content for consumers on the front label."

The carbohydrate proposals are part of a larger debate on changing the American diet in the face of growing obesity and diabetes rates. Even the food guide pyramid may get a remodelling, although any revamping is likely to be a lengthy process as well-funded interest groups weigh in, often with wildly conflicting nutritional evidence.

"We need to help consumers better understand the importance of eating more foods rich in whole grains and folic acid, and maintaining the critical balance between calories consumed and calories burned," said Alison Kretser, GMA's director of scientific and nutrition policy.

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