Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nutrition Facts: Proposed FDA Label Changes

The redesign would change how serving sizes are calculated and displayed.
Calorie counts would be more prominent, and the existing “Calories from Fat” line would be removed.
Percent daily values would shift to the left, making them easier to read. Some package sizes would be required to show both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition counts.
The new design would require information about added sugars.
Vitamin D and potassium 
counts would be required. Vitamins A and C would be optional.

Big changes are potentially afoot when it comes to the FDA's Nutrition Labeling guidelines.  GMA highlighted the changes this morning on their show, and various newspapers such as The New York Times, also covered the newly released information.  Keep in mind, these are just proposed changes, and chances are it could take up to two years to fully implement if it is decided to move forward with them.

You can find the FDA's press release here:
and for a little more information:

As you can see above, the major changes include updates to how the serving sizes are calculated AND displayed.  This update aims to reflect serving sizes that are closer to how people really eat, for example, a serving size for a muffin is 1/2 a muffin, but people will typically eat the entire muffin.  So, the labels will be changed to provide more accurate information, which, in my opinion, is always a good thing.
*The FDA explains that the serving sizes were created in 1994, but eating habits have changed in the ensuing 20 years, and by law serving sizes must be based on how people actually eat, not on how they "should" be eating.*

The next big change is the calorie count.  It will be much more prominently displayed, promoting awareness of the relationship between calories and current public health problems such obesity and heart disease.  The Calories From Fat line will also be removed because it is not as relevant as previously believed.  Along those lines, the percent daily values will be shifted so as to be more prominent and easily read, for similar reasons.

Another change, and possibly the most talked about, is the addition of an "Added Sugars" line.  This is to help provide a more in-depth knowledge for consumers about how much sugar has been added to their food during food production.  The impetus behind this change is the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for America, which states that sugar intake in Americans is too high and should be reduced.

Lastly, the amounts of potassium and Vitamin D will be required on the label.  These are important nutrients that are beneficial to the population.  They help prevent chronic disease, promote bone health, and lower blood pressure.  It is suggested that people should be consuming more of these nutrients.

I think that these changes are a step in the right direction, but the key to effective change is for consumers to be aware of the information that is being provided, know the reasons behind why and what the labeling means, and be able to make decisions about their diets effectively using that knowledge.  This requires education about nutrition, and how to read nutrition labels.  A good place to start, if you're looking for in-depth information, is the FDA's website.  They dedicate a page to How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label:  Or you can skip past the info, and look at the useful diagrams.
*Note: this guide is for the current labeling, not the proposed labels

Sample Label for Macaroni & Cheese
 #1. Start Here with the serving size.Title and Serving Size Information section of label, with number of servings.
 #2. Calories from Fat.Calorie section of label, showing number of calories per serving and calories from fat.
 #3. Limit These Nutrients: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium.Total Fat, Saturated Fat Cholesterol, Sodium with Total Carbohydrate section of label, with quantities and % daily values. #6. Quick Guide to %DV.
 #4. Get Enough of These Nutrients: Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron.Remaining Carbohydrates, including Dietary Fiber and Sugars, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron section of label with % daily values, and quantities for fiber, sugar and protein.#6. Quick Guide to %DV: 5% or less is Low / 20% or more is High.
 #5. The Footnote, or Lower part of the Nutrition Facts Label.Footnote section of label, indicating quantities of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, and dietary fiber for 2000 and 2500 calorie diets.

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