Color-coded food labels a health boon

When medical doctor Anthony Leachon’s weight ballooned to 200 pounds, his blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels were deranged.

Leachon decided to lose weight or else he will never have the moral ascendancy to advocate preventive health if he will not walk the talk.

According to a 2016 joint study by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), obesity among children below five years old jumped 400 percent, from 1 percent prevalence in 1992 to 5 percent in 2013.

In the Philippines, three out of 10 Filipinos suffer from obesity, due to the large intake of sugar-rich foods and calorie.

An advocate of preventive health and healthcare reform and renowned cardiologist, Leachon said the ideal daily intake is 1,500 calories for women and 2,000 calories for men, but many Filipinos do not know that.

“The reasons why many Filipinos are obese or overweight are due to Ignorance. Lack of education on the calories they are taking. It should be inserted into the health curriculum. Ineptitude, people are educated but they fail to apply [their education] correction. Food labels should be imposed. Failure to shape the environment. No parks, biking, or walking lanes to encourage people to exercise,” he explained.

Regular exercise vs smart eating

Experts revealed that one can lose weight with diet alone, but exercise is an important component.

“Control calorie intake and burn calories through exercise,” said Leachon who now regularly goes to the gym and has lost 20 pounds since.

As a rule of thumb, expert says weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise.

“Eat smart. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart. On average, people who dieted without exercising for 15 weeks lost 23 pounds; the exercisers lost only six over about 21 weeks. It’s much easier to cut calories than to burn them off,” said Shawn Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic.

Smart eating is reading or checking the food labels to help one understand the nutritional value and ingredients of his or her food.

“It is extremely important. People fail due to two errors: error of ignorance and error of ineptitude. Education is key to making the right choices and decisions,” said Leachon.

But not just nutrition labels, Leachon is pushing for the color-coded food labels that will be displayed on the front of food and drink products to visually show the consumers the nutritional value of food portions.

The consumers will see first-hand if the product has low, medium, or high amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars, and salt.

“If the label is yellow, the product is dangerous for health. If the label is green, it means the product is consumable. If it’s red, do not take it,” said Leachon in an interview.

Unfortunately, color-coded food nutrition labels are still not being implemented in the Philippines.

“In 2014, we convened a group with former Food and Drug Authority director Suzette Lazo, Philippine College of Physicians, medical organizations together with the food and beverage industry. We were close to execution but the Department of Health and the next FDA chief did not pursue it,” revealed Leachon.

How healthy is your food?

In an article published by, it said that trans fat has been shown to increase levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol while decreasing levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

A label that lists 0 grams (g) trans fat can contain up to 0.5 grams trans fat per serving and say it has none.

When it comes to sodium, excess sodium can raise blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease.

For fiber, the article suggests looking for at least 3 grams per serving in any product that contains grains, including crackers, pasta, bread, and even some soups.

For calorie count, a higher-calorie food is said to be worth eating if it also contains lots of nutrients.

If sugar is one of the first two ingredients, manufacturers split up sugar into dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane crystals. None of them is the first ingredient, even though if you added them up, they would be, said the article.

For vitamins and minerals, a food that contains anywhere from 10 percent to 19 percent of the daily value is considered a good source of the nutrient.

As for whole grains, look for the word “whole” for a heart-healthy and fiber-rich whole grains (eg oatmeal and quinoa).

“Enriched” grain means the grain has been refined.

Changes to the nutrition facts label

Last May 20, 2016, the FDA announced the new nutrition facts label for packaged foods to reflect the new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity.

According to FDA, the old label is more than 20 years old. FDA wanted to make sure consumers have access to more accurate and recent nutrition information about the foods they are eating.

Changes include modifying the list of required nutrients that must be declared on the label, updating serving size requirements, and providing a refreshed design.

“The new Nutrition Facts label will make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat,” FDA said in an article.

Although the label is still recognizable, FDA made some improvements to the format to provide significant public health information, such as:

  • Highlighting “calories,” “servings per container,” and the “serving size” declaration by increasing the type size and placing the number of calories and the “Serving size” declaration in bold type;
  • Requiring manufacturers to declare the actual amount, in addition to percent daily value, of the mandatory vitamins and minerals;
  • Adding “Includes X g Added Sugars” directly beneath the listing for “Total Sugars”; and
  • Changing the footnote to better explain the percent daily value. It will now read: “The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet, 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”

The FDA extended the compliance dates for the nutrition facts and supplement facts label final rule and the serving size final rule, from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual foods sales.

Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would receive an extra year to comply — until January 1, 2021.

Article originally published at The Manila Times on July 28, 2018


Published by Mylene Orillo

Mylene Orillo is a contributing writer at My Pope Philippines. Prior to that, she contributed to the Health & Lifestyle magazine.  She's a former correspondent at The Manila Times; former editor-in-chief of TravelPlus magazine; and former assistant editor of Health & Lifestyle, Zen Health, and DiabetEASE magazines by FAME Publishing, Inc., a company owned by cardiologist Dr. Rafael Castillo who has given her the much-needed break and opportunity in the health industry and medical field.  Her previous job as a Media Consultant at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and Writer-Researcher at the Headquarters Philippine Army ignited her passions for charity, volunteering, selfless service, and love of country. As a young girl, she loved reading her mom's collection of Mills & Boons pocketbooks, which started her passion to write romance stories.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Sto. Tomas in España, Manila. She is now working towards earning her master's degree hopefully this year. She loves traveling, long-distance running, reading romance and non-fiction books, watching Korean Drama series, feel-good rom coms, military movies, and documentaries during her spare time. Someday, she wants to meet Prince William and Pope Francis, settle down with the love of her life and have a family and kids of her own; and become a bestselling romance author.

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