FDA Nutrition Facts label gets a major makeover

After 20 years, manufacturers are gearing up to roll out of a much needed change to the Nutrition Facts label in summer 2018. The new look is more than a cosmetic facelift. The changes are designed to help Americans with healthy eating decisions to lower risk for chronic disease.

Why is the Nutrition Facts label change so important?

The Nutrition Facts label is a tool to guide healthy choices. We know that Americans in general are eating more calories than we need and this is promoting undesired weight gain that increases the risk for chronic disease and health challenges like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. If Americans are to embrace a healthier lifestyle, the Nutrition Facts label can support healthy decisions at the grocery store. Portions have increased in size over the past 40 years and this correlates to changes in weight trends for Americans.

We all need to think twice about how much sugar is added to the foods we eat. The average American is consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. That is about 400 calories per day from processed and refined sugars. Each man, woman and child in the United States averages 150 lb. of refined sugar intake each year, with about half of this coming from added sugars, but consumers today have no way of knowing how many calories in a food comes from naturally occurring (healthy) sugars versus those refined sugars added in processing. These added sugars contain ‘extra calories’ we do not need and provide no added value with vitamins, fiber or minerals that will promote health. Sugar is high calorie with low nutrient density. The American Heart Association advises no more than 6 teaspoons sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons daily for men. This is significantly less that the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—based on 2000 calorie intake, added sugars would not exceed 12 teaspoons or 200 calories.

We all need to focus on increasing the nutrient quality of our food choices. Americans in general consume too much saturated fat and trans fat and this increases our risk for heart disease. We consume too much sodium and this increases our risk for hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease. When we consume highly processed foods, the fiber, vitamin and mineral content of our diet decreases, potentially impacting bone health and increasing our risk for disease. Experts estimate that 54 million Americans have decreased bone density in the United States, so we are all needing to think about calcium and vitamin D intake.

What will our new label look like?

Based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the new label includes four major changes.

Source: FDA.gov

Portions will be more prominent. The goal is to focus on the serving size. Portion sizes have steadily increased in the United States over the past 40 years. Twenty years ago experts attempted to modify food portions by suggesting smaller but healthier servings. Portions have not decreased as a result of suggested smaller portion sizes. The new label will reflect more typical servings to increase awareness that portions matter. Twenty years ago the portion for soda was 8 ounces and the new label is 12 ounces — the difference is about 50 calories. The design change will help you to quickly decide if the label portion is your typical portion — if you eat a larger portion, you will need to do some math to adjust the calories, fat and nutrient values.

Calories will be larger print and easier to read. Americans need to trim the calories and the new label will make it easier to see the caloric content of packaged foods. The calories from fat will not be on the updated label, because the focus is now on reducing saturated fats and trans fats.  Some experts felt that ‘Calories from Fat’ on our existing label, distracts from the need to focus on lowering overall caloric intake for health in the United States. Calories cause weight gain and it doesn’t matter if they come from protein, fat or sugars and starches.

Americans are consuming about 300 more calories daily compared to 1985.

Americans are consuming about 300 more calories daily compared to 1985. Over the same 40 year period the percentage of Americans who are overweight or obese increased from 56–70 percent. The new label layout is designed to promote lower calorie intake to achieve a healthy weight and lower the risk of these chronic diseases.

Added sugars will be listed under total sugars. The 2015-2020 Guidelines for Healthy Americans recommends under 10 percent of total calories come from added sugars. The current label does not allow consumers to distinguish between the naturally occurring sugars in foods and those added to the food by manufacturers before the food is packaged.  This change will empower all Americans to choose foods with higher nutrient density and lower calories.

The targeted nutrients will change. Vitamin A and vitamin C will no longer appear on the new label, because deficiencies for these nutrients are rare in the past twenty years. New arrivals to the label in 2018 will be vitamin D and calcium. The label will continue to show iron and potassium. The new label will include the actual amounts of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. This will help consumers assess intake based on personal goals.

nutrition label update
Source: FDA.gov

We remodel and update our home every 10-20 years. We update our computer software and phones every couple of years. We also need to update our daily food choices to assure future health. The updated Nutrition Facts label will be your tool to healthier choices.

About the author

Julie Paff
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Julie Paff, RD, LD, CDE is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Health. She has 37 years of professional experience in four states. Her passion in managing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease. Julie teaches Diabetes Boot Camp at the Cedar Park Clinic and the Georgetown Specialty Clinic in Central Texas. She sees patients for diabetes education and nutrition counseling at Round Rock Specialty Clinic, Cedar Park Clinic and Georgetown Specialty Clinic.

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FDA Nutrition Facts label gets a major makeover