One of the first steps to eating healthier is knowing what is in the food you’re eating. The first place you look for this information is the nutrition label on the packaging. But how often do you look at the label only to be confused or later realize you misread the information? With this struggle in mind, the FDA has proposed what many believe to be easier to understand nutrition labels, which may be making their way to products in the next few years.
Nutrition labels were first mandated in 1990 by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) based on recommendations by the FDA. Nutrition Fact labels were required to appear on packaged foods beginning in May 1994. The new recommendations from the FDA could lead to the first major overhaul of the labels in 20 years. The only other major change came in 2006 when trans fats were separated and highlighted on labels.
The proposed changes are addressing the changes in the dietary habits of Americans and reflect the latest in nutrition science. Much more is known today about how the foods we eat directly affect our health and the development of chronic diseases. When labels first appeared in 1990, fat was blamed as being the sole contributor to making people fat. Subsequent studies have revealed that total calories, sugar, and processed carbohydrates are equally to blame. The goal of the proposed changes is to make it easier to judge a food by its label and to make people more aware of what they’re eating by giving them a tool to make healthy dietary choices.
There are several major changes that may appear on the new Nutrition Facts label.
- Portion sizes will be adjusted to reflect a serving size that the average person consumes instead of what they should consume. For example, the nutrition information for a serving of ice cream would be for a serving of one cup instead of the current half cup.
- Larger packages will have dual column labels that would display both per serving and per package nutrition information. The dual column format would be required if the package contains at least two times the serving size and less than or equal to four times the serving size.
- Calorie counts and serving sizes will be displayed in larger and bold type to draw the consumer’s attention to the information. Labels will no longer only list total sugar.
- Calories from fat will no longer appear on the label because research has shown that the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount of calories in the fat.
- A separate line will be included for added sugars to allow the consumer the ability to differentiate between natural sugars and the refined sugars added by the manufacturer.
- Vitamin D and potassium will replace vitamins A and C, but manufacturers can voluntarily include them. These nutrients are important for bone health and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, respectively, and many Americans are not getting enough of these nutrients.
- The final change will be an update of daily values. The daily values for sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D will move in line with the new recommended daily limits.
As National Nutrition Month draws to a close, reflect on your use and knowledge of nutrition labels. Do you think that the new labels will help you better understand what a product contains and make you a more informed consumer? If you are a dietician or work with patients regarding diet and nutrition, do you think the new labels are a step in the right direction? Want to provide an opinion about the new labels? The FDA is accepting YOUR comments until the June 2 on their official docket.