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Decoding the New Food Labels

By Staff | March 15, 2019 | Rally Health

Changes are coming to the “Nutrition Facts” panel, that label you see on most packaged and prepared food that tells you how many calories, carbs, and nutrients it contains. The update is designed to make it easier for consumers to choose healthier options, and features some key changes, including the tracking of two new nutrients and added sugars. While the deadline for updating the labels isn’t until January 2021, new Nutrition Facts panels are already popping up on some products. Here’s what to expect.

1. Updated Serving Sizes

  • One of the most frustrating things about the current label is that serving sizes don’t always represent what a person typically consumes as one serving. Sometimes the serving amount is lower than what most Americans typically eat of a food; other times a food’s packaging may suggest that it’s one serving when actually it’s two to three if you read the fine print. There are two new guidelines to help with sorting this out. First, serving size amounts must be more in line with what Americans are eating. For example, the reference serving size for one serving of soda will increase from 8 fluid ounces to 12 fluid ounces, and one serving of ice cream will rise from one-half cup to two-thirds cup.
  • Second, smaller packages that might be interpreted as a single serving must list the whole package as one serving. This means that foods such as individual bags of chips — whether 1, 2 or 2.5 ounces — will all be listed as one serving and provide the corresponding calories and nutrients.

2. Addition of Added Sugars

One of the most significant changes is the new “Added Sugars” value. Currently, “Sugars” is included as a component of “Total Carbohydrates,” but that doesn’t differentiate between added sugars (added during processing) and natural sugars (naturally occurring in foods such as fruit and dairy products). Overall intake of added sugars by the American population is considered excessive, and this is a concern since added sugar consumption been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from added sugars, and the revised label will finally give consumers the tools they need to track their sugar consumption and meet that goal.

3. Updated Vitamins and Minerals

You’ll still see iron and calcium, but on the updated label, you’ll also see two new nutrients: vitamin D and potassium. These two micronutrients were added based on data from national nutrition studies suggesting that many Americans do not get enough of either. Another change is that the actual amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin D, and potassium per serving will be provided. The current label requires only that vitamin and mineral amounts be  provided as “% of Daily Value,” but the revised label requires the actual amount as well.

A few other changes you may notice:

  • The word “Calories” is much larger and bolder, making it easier to spot.
  • The current label lists the calories that come from fat to the right of total calories. However, research now suggests that the type of fat (such as saturated, unsaturated or trans) is much more important for health than the amount, so the new label no longer requires “Calories From Fat” to be listed.
  • Vitamins A and C are no longer required since nutrient deficiencies for both are now rare in the U.S., although manufacturers still have the option to list them.  
  • Text explaining the “Percent Daily Values” has been edited to be more consumer-friendly.

These updates are designed to make choosing healthier products easier. However, this doesn’t mean the new label roll-out will be overnight or come without a little frustration. Consumers should be prepared to find a mix of old and new labels when grocery shopping until 2021 due to the FDA’s staggered compliance deadlines for small and large manufacturers. Once it’s fully implemented, though, hopefully consumers will find the new label easier to use — or at least an improvement over the current one.

References for Label Changes:

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/labelingnutrition/ucm511646.pdf

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/UCM502305.pdf

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/UCM501663.pdf

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/21/2018-27431/food-labeling-revision-of-the-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels-technical-amendments

Added Sugar and Health Effects Reference:

https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html

Staff
Rally Health