The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced the final changes that will be made to the nutrition facts label that appears on packaged foods. This is exciting news. The food label has not been updated in more than 20 years, while food and nutrition research has been growing rapidly!
So what are the changes and what do they mean for you?
There are some changes in the layout/design, including emphasizing calories through a larger font, removing the amounts of vitamins C and A content (because deficiency in America is rare) as well as adding the amount of vitamin D content (because most Americans don’t get enough). There will also be an additional column for the nutrition facts for the entire container. If there are three servings in the package of ice cream, in addition to the one serving, you will be told what the nutrition profile is for the entire container.
Speaking of serving sizes, there are some changes there as well. You may be alarmed to see some of your favorite foods’ calorie content increase since the FDA states that “serving sizes must be based in amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not that they should be eating.”
Cereal is a good example of under-estimated portions. The FDA confirmed the labeling change for soda: Currently the serving size is 8 ounces, even though 8-ounce cans are labeled “mini.” The serving size will now be 12 ounces, which is the typical intake of soda. It must be made clear that this is not the recommend portion size for all foods. A portion size can contain multiple servings. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a portion of fruit juice be 4 ounces, while the serving size may be listed as 12 ounces. The recommendations of how much you should be eating are not changing, rather labeling the serving size as what is typically consumed will allow people to accurately see what they consume.
The change that I am most excited to see is the addition of added sugar. Currently, the only way you can see if sugar is added to the product is by reading the ingredients list. Now, I always recommend reading the ingredients list before even looking at the nutrition facts, but added sugar can be tricky to spot since there are over 50 different names/forms of sugar! Time after time, evidence-based nutrition research proves that eating foods with added sugar can contribute to and exacerbate chronic illnesses such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. The nutrition facts label will now tell you how much added sugar is in the food, as well as the percent daily value.
The World Health Organization recommends <10% total energy intake from sugars per day, and less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to about 100-200 calories per day per person. What does that look like? You would hit the maximum level by having 50-75% of a bakery donut, or 7.5 fluid ounces of soda, two foods that wouldn’t surprise many people. But also, you would reach this limit with 6 ounces of “fruit on the bottom” Greek yogurt and a Nutri-Grain® bar. The amount of added sugar in foods is shocking, but hopefully with the new labeling, consumers will become more aware and able to make better choices.
Unfortunately, it will be a while before you see the new labels on food products. According to the FDA, many manufacturers need to use the new label by July 2018; while those manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have an extra year to update their labels.