Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Nutrition Fact Labels from around the World: Italy

Last summer, I worked as an intern at Preston Taylor Ministries, and incredible non-profit that serves youth in the Preston Taylor area of Nashville, TN. I taught nutrition and health lessons to a group of fifth graders, although sometimes we ended up goofing off and getting a little crazy ;)
[Here are are some of the fifth graders I worked with, they were so fun and lively!]

One of the lessons we worked on extensively was reading a Nutrition Facts label properly. The Nutrition Facts label can be really difficult to decipher; none of the vocabulary is explained (what is cholesterol, after all?), the percent daily value is confusing, and the label is based on only one type of person - the 2,000 calorie-a-day sized person. My PTM kids did their best to understand the label, and how to use it to make nutritious food choices.

[American Nutrition Facts Label]

This mini-series of blog posts will compare nutrition fact labels to American ones - perhaps there will be differences between labels, perhaps none? Well, let's jump in with the Italian nutrition facts label!

This label comes from Vivi's Biscotti Frollini, which are digestive biscuits reminiscent of a Girl Scout shortbread cookie. Here is what they look like:

[These are so delicious, so addictive!]

Though there are obvious differences between the labels (i.e. the layout, language difference, the calculation of kilo joules instead of only calories), there are two key differences I want to highlight. The Percent Daily Value (or "% Assunzioni di Riferemento per Porzione") is listed for protein and sugar on Italian nutrition facts labels, but not on American labels. On the Biscotti cookie label, the %DV for protein and sugar are 6% and 11%, respectively. On American labels, the %DV is not listed. These two discrepancies boil down to the same reality: the powerful presence of Food Industry in the American government and diet.

[How I picture lobbyists in my mind]

The sugar lobby, also called "Big Sugar," spends millions of dollars every year to hide the detrimental impacts of sugar on the American diet. Without going too far into detail on the adverse impact of sugar on the body, sugar consumption is positively associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Nothing new about this, these findings have been supported by research since the 1970s. However, Big Sugar has succeeded in hiding this information and creating doubt about sugar's negative impact on health. Big Sugar has paid for "shady" studies that provide counter-evidence to science's claims, and has "persuaded" (threatened?) US Congress and the World Health Organization to not set upper limits on sugar intakes. In 2010, the WHO drafted a recommendation for %DV to be listed for sugar in America and Canada - but this recommendation was removed from the agenda after US Congressmen (who were financially supported by Big Sugar) demanded the WHO take it off the agenda.

Thus, American Nutrition Fact labels are without a %DV for sugar; they were blocked by the industry.  And holy buckets, does this make a difference. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 37.5 grams of sugar per day, and 25 grams for women. If %DV were recorded for sugar, then Coca-Cola drinkers would learn that a 12 oz can of Coke (40 g) is over 100% of a man or woman's daily allotted intake of sugar.


Education leads to empowered and informed choices. If an individual knew he was consuming a drink with 100% of his recommended intake of sugar, perhaps he would make a difference choice. Perhaps he would not - but restricting access to easy-to-understand information robs an individual of his choice to make healthy, informed decisions.

Good news? the %DV for sugar will be added in 2018. Read about it here. Huge shout out to Michelle Obama for all of her efforts.

I'll briefly talk about protein, which also does not have %DV on the nutrition facts label. The reason behind this is opposite to that of sugar: the protein industry does not want an individual to know how much protein is sufficient for the American diet, encouraging this obsession of needing more protein. 

Without sounding too dramatic, Americans are obsessed with getting enough protein. I held a vegan diet (no animal products, only plant-based foods) from June 2015 until April 2016.  When I shared that I was vegan with acquaintances, the most common - often worried - question I received was, "How will you get enough protein?"

The average American eats twice as much protein as recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board. Eating excess protein can harmful or beneficial, depending on its sources. But who is at fault for the lack of %DV on the American Nutrition Facts label? The protein lobbies. If individuals are not aware of the amount of protein needed to stay healthy, the meat-packing industry benefits - especially since we consume more protein than necessary!


For information on the politics of sugar, check out Sugar Coated (available on Netflix), a documentary that plunges into the history of sugar in America. Or, if you're short on time, this Canadian documentary also paints a morbid, but realistic, picture of Big Sugar. I would start at 32:00, continue until 40 minutes in.

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