A single system would let consumers quickly compare choices within a variety of food categories, the report said.
Determining whether or not a product can carry a healthy food package label would be done on a point system based on how much sugar, salt and fat it contained. These were picked because they are linked to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, among other illnesses.
To be eligible for a "healthy" label, the product would have to have limited amounts of sugar, salt and trans fats, the IOM committee said.
"For example, 100 percent whole-wheat bread could earn all three points; graham crackers could earn two points for fats and sodium; and an oat-and-peanut butter bar could earn one point for sodium," the committee noted.
Items with the most points would signal to consumers that these are the healthiest choices.
Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., said that "one of the reasons nutrition labels are so confusing is that nutrition is very complicated.
"In fact, the current labeling system is so confounding to consumers that as part of a series of adult nutrition classes, I devote a one-hour class to reading and understanding the Nutrition Facts Panel," she added.
Simplifying front package labeling so consumers can make healthier choices is a great idea if the IOM can make it work, Heller said. "It is a huge undertaking and fraught with difficulties on many levels, from the food companies push-back to consumer understanding and education," she said.
It is difficult to apply the same standards to all foods, Heller said. "Some healthy foods may come up short and some less-than-healthy foods may end up getting more checks than they really deserve," she noted. "All this said, we do need a
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