Americans are faced with a smorgasbord of foods, eating venues, and endless “advice” from television, the Internet, and (sometimes questionable) “experts” so it can be difficult for a person to determine which foods are the healthiest to eat. Many consumers, especially those looking to lose weight, have looked on the packages of foods in the grocery store to find the calorie, fat content, carbohydrate grams, sodium content, etc. as they make their purchasing decisions — but these labels have often been confusing and list nutrients with smaller serving sizes than people normally eat. With the link between Americans’ dietary habits and chronic disease becoming clearer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responded to stakeholder input, including that of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to update the requirements for the food label.
The iconic look of the food label that has been in use for over 20 years will remain the same, but there will be several changes in response to Americans’ dietary needs and eating habits. Expect to see the new food labels within the next few years: large manufacturers have until July 26, 2018 to make the changes, while small manufacturers get an extra year to make the changes. Here is a brief look at some of the changes, and you can learn more on the EatrightPro website here.
What is newly required?
- Actual amounts of the nutrients have to be included in addition to the % daily value (%DV).
- For example, Calcium would be listed as 260 mg and 20% DV.
- Vitamin D and Potassium must be listed on the new labels. Calcium and iron continue to be required.
- Added sugars must be included and expressed in grams and %DV.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of overall calories.
- Serving size must be more realistic with what people are actually eating, not what they should be eating.
- For example, a 12 oz can of soda is now considered 1 serving instead of 1.5 servings, since most people drink the whole can at one time.
- A serving of ice cream is now 2/3 cups, not ½ cup.
- Some packages will have dual columns, with the amount per container or package, and the amount per serving.
What is no longer required?
- Calories from fat is no longer required since the type of fat is more important than the quantity when decreasing the risk for chronic disease.
- Trans fat, saturated fat, and total fat must still be listed.
- Vitamin A and C can still be listed, but are no longer required on the label.
The explanation of % Daily Value is also changing.
- Old wording for % DV:
“Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.”
- New wording for %DV:
“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 Nutrition Facts label of the beverage shown here will be different in many ways when the new regulations take effect. Since most people will drink the entire bottle at one time, the nutrient information will need to be listed per 32 fluid ounce container size, rather than the current listing of nutrients per 12 fluid oz serving (2.5 servings per bottle). This will make it easier for consumers to realize they are drinking 200 calories, not 80 as some may currently think. Out of the 21 grams of sugars listed, it will have to indicate how many of those are Added Sugars (versus naturally occurring sugars such as in fruits or dairy).
Although we won’t know for several years if these changes will make a difference on Americans’ eating habits, the updated label will certainly make nutrition information easier and quicker to understand. Future educational campaigns can help consumers understand the Nutrition Facts Panel and make healthful choices when shopping. This is one more “tool in the toolbox” to help Americans decrease our risk for chronic disease through good nutrition and lifestyle habits.
Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND is a Division Director of Nutrition Support for Morrison Healthcare. She is the Policy & Advocacy Leader for the Clinical Nutrition Management Dietetic Practice Group for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and helps the public understand the impact of nutrition-related legislation on their health.
Janelle Walker, MBA, CLE, is a lifestyle educator for Kaiser Permanente. Janelle works with Kaiser members, families and consumers to help them adopt healthy lifestyle habits.