By: Elizabeth Hubbard, University of Maryland Health Center, Dietetic Intern
What does this mean for you?
First of all, don’t expect to see any changes the next time you go to the grocery store. The FDA has only proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label.
The general public now has 90 days to provide comments to the FDA on the proposed changes, after which the FDA may take more time to revise their proposal. Once the new requirements are finalized, the FDA has proposed allowing the food industry two years to make changes to their packaging.
All in all, it could be another three years before you see the new label on the food products you buy.
How would the new Nutrition Facts label differ from the old label?
The most noticeable feature of the new label is the calorie count displayed in big, bold text.
This change reflects the most current nutritional science, which has shown that, when it comes to weight maintenance, total calorie intake matters most. In other words, how many calories one eats matters a lot more than where those calories come from (fats, carbs, etc.).
The new label is also designed to be less cluttered and easier to read.
Realistic, Up-to-Date Serving Sizes
Ever wonder why the bag of potato chips you eat with your lunch claims to be “two servings”? Or why soda you drink with your meal is “2.5 servings”?
Current food labels often confuse consumers with serving sizes that don’t resemble the amount that people actually eat. Under the new labeling requirements, any food that is typically consumed in one sitting would be described as “one serving.”
Some foods that may or may not be eaten in one sitting would have double-column labels, showing both “per serving” and “per package” nutritional information.
In general, we eat larger servings than we did twenty years ago. The new proposal would change serving sizes to reflect how much we really eat now. For example, a “serving” of ice cream would increase from ½ cup to a full cup.
Required Disclosure of Added Sugars
The FDA’s proposed new labels would require food manufacturers to declare the amount of added sugars in their products.
Food manufacturers are currently required to show the total amount of sugar in their products, but labels do not distinguish between naturally-occurring sugars (such as the kind found in fruit) and sugars added in food processing.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing added sugars in the diet, because added sugars contribute empty calories while providing no nutritional benefit.
The new requirement would ensure that food labels provide consumers with enough information to enable them to choose products low in added sugars. Requiring disclosure of added sugars may also encourage food manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugars in their products in order to appeal to health-conscious consumers.
Potassium and Vitamin D Required
The FDA requires that food labels display the content of certain nutrients in foods. Not every nutrient needs to be listed; instead, labels highlight nutrients that may be deficient in American diets and that contribute to health problems.
For the past twenty years, food labels have displayed the amount of calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C in foods. The proposed new labels would keep calcium and iron, but would replace vitamins A and C with potassium and vitamin D.
Why the switch?
Potassium intake is low for many American consumers, which contributes to their risk of developing high blood pressure. Similarly, many Americans consume insufficient vitamin D, which can have wide-ranging health consequences, including bone density problems such as osteoporosis.
Vitamins A and C, by contrast, are not nutrients in which American diets are typically deficient, and they do not contribute as significantly to the chronic diseases that afflict many Americans.
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a statement supporting the proposed label, with Academy President Glenna McCollum calling the proposed label a “big win for consumers.”
But the Academy’s press release also pointed out that many consumers do not know how to read the existing Nutrition Facts label, so more education is needed in order to ensure that consumers can use this tool to improve their diets and their health.
To learn more about the FDA’s proposed changes, check out these links:
- (NPR) New Food Labels Aim to Make Health Shopping Easy
- (Washington Post) Food labels to get first makeover in 20 years with new emphasis on calories, sugar
To learn more about how to read a food label and how to use this information to make healthy choices, sign up for a FREE diet analysis through the University Health Center.