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Baystate dietitians weigh in on long overdue food labels makeover

May 24, 2016

You may have to wait until July 26, 2018 - the date most food manufacturers will be required to display new food label designs announced recently by the Food and Drug Administration - but many dietitians say the wait is worth it and that the announcement on Friday, May 19, was "a seriously exciting day."

The makeover takes into account the actual eating habits of Americans by including serving sizes of foods and drinks, such as a large 20 oz soda - now cited as one serving as opposed to two currently, that more accurately reflect the amount people consume. There will also be more attention to calorie counts and added sugars.

 Baystate Dietitians Weigh In

The long awaited changes on the Nutrition Facts labels will be of great help to people trying to manage their weight and modify their intake of certain nutrients such as sodium (salt), notes Baystate Medical Center registered dietitian Paula Serafino-Cross, MS, RDN, LDN.

 "The 'dual column' with nutrition information on both one serving and the entire package may make someone think before consuming a large bag of chips or a pint of ice cream. Consumers will now see the calories on a 20 oz bottle of soda or juice for the entire bottle, not just an 8 oz serving, as most people will consume the whole container.  Will this end obesity? Probably not, but it will make for more informed consumers who will have a new tool for improving their health," said Serafino-Cross.

 Baystate Medical Center registered dietitian Allison Clark, RD, LDN says a helpful new feature of the labels is the “added sugar” information.

"It helps to differentiate between added and naturally occurring sugars. The new dietary guidelines recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars, and now we will have the tools to track this. Consumers will also see information regarding vitamin D and potassium content of foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are common nutrients that are lacking in American’s diets. Vitamin D is important for bone health and potassium helps to regulate blood pressure. These new changing will make it much easier for our patients to understand exactly what they are consuming. I expect that it will eliminate frequent misinterpretation of the food label that we so often see," said Clark.

The Official FDA News Release

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a major step in making sure consumers have updated nutritional information for most packaged foods sold in the United States, that will help people make informed decisions about the foods they eat and feed their families.

“I am thrilled that the FDA has finalized a new and improved Nutrition Facts label that will be on food products nationwide,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “This is going to make a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.”

“For more than 20 years, Americans have relied on the Nutrition Facts label as a leading source of information regarding calories, fat and other nutrients to help them understand more about the foods they eat in a day,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. “The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices – one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.”

Key Updates

The new Nutrition Facts label will include the following.

  • An updated design to highlight “calories” and “servings,” two important elements in making informed food choices.

  • Requirements for serving sizes that more closely reflect the amounts of food that people currently eat. What and how much people eat and drink has changed since the last serving size requirements were published in 1993. By law, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, requires that serving sizes be based on what people actually eat.

  • Declaration of grams and a percent daily value (%DV) for “added sugars” to help consumers know how much sugar has been added to the product. It is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars, and this is consistent with the scientific evidence supporting the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  • “Dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for certain multi-serving food products that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings. Examples include a pint of ice cream and a 3-ounce bag of chips. With dual-column labels available, people will be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.

  • For packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20 ounce soda, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.

  • Updated daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D, consistent with Institute of Medicine recommendations and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Daily values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the %DV that manufacturers include on the label.

  • Declaration of Vitamin D and potassium that will include the actual gram amount, in addition to the %DV. These are nutrients that some people are not getting enough of, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. The %DV for calcium and iron will continue to be required, along with the actual gram amount. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required because deficiencies of these vitamins are rare, but these nutrients can be included on a voluntary basis.

  • “Calories from Fat” will be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount. “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will continue to be required.

  • An abbreviated footnote to better explain the %DV.


Supplement Facts Label Changes

The FDA is also making minor changes to the Supplement Facts label found on dietary supplements to make it consistent with the Nutrition Facts label.

Most food manufacturers will be required to use the new label by July 26, 2018. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply with the new rules. The FDA plans to conduct outreach and education efforts on the new requirements.

The iconic Nutrition Facts label was introduced more than 20 years ago to help consumers make informed food choices and maintain healthy dietary practices. In March 2014, the FDA proposed two rules to update the label, and in July 2015, issued a supplemental proposed rule. The Nutrition Facts label regulations apply to packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.