The FDA Proposes New Food Label Update: Major Changes After 20 Years

Posted on 23 Mar 2014 21:56

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The FDA, for the first time in 20 years, is proposing some updates to the food labeling regulations. These changes are meant to reflect the latest scientific information. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the changes is that calories from fat will no longer be given as a separate listing to total calories.

Instead, under the new proposal, only the total calorie count will be given and this listing will be much more prominent than previously, although still in the same spot on the nutrition facts panel. This change was brought about by the current emphasis on total calories as opposed to intake of dietary fat. Several other significant changes are afoot that the agency hopes will help consumers make better decisions based on modern nutritional science. People have been complaining for years that food labeling changes are needed to address changing scientific knowledge.

“For 20 years consumers have come to rely on the iconic nutrition label to help them make healthier food choices,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “To remain relevant, the FDA’s newly proposed Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.” Here are some of the changes being discussed:

Listing of Added Sugars Required

The new nutrition facts panel will require a listing of "added sugars" as a separate and additional listing to total sugars, which is all that is required on current labels. This should help sugars differentiate between the amount of simple sugars that occurs naturally in the food product, as opposed to the amount that is added by the food manufacturer.
Do you think this will help? Does it make a difference whether simple sugars are added, or whether they occur naturally in the foods? Or, is it total sugar, required on current labels, that matters?


Current Label


Current Label

Updated Serving Sizes to Reflect Realistic Amounts

The amount of calories that are listed on the food label are determined by standard serving sizes. The problem is, standard serving sizes have for years been entirely unrealistic, reflecting amounts much smaller than normally eaten. The current serving sizes were put in place in 1994, supposedly based on average amounts that people should eat, rather than what they do eat. The new serving amounts are supposed to be based on the typical amounts that people actually eat. This should help tremendously with small packages of foods that people usually eat in one sitting, such as various sized bags of potato chips and other snack-foods that are, although quite large to be considered a "snack-size" are still small enough that most people finish them in one sitting. Currently, such packages may list two or more servings within the container, which many consumers do not notice, thinking that the total calories is given for the entire bag. Some snack-food makers have already begun using this practice voluntarily. To that end, a new column in the nutrition facts panel is proposed:

Dual Column to Indicate "Per Serving" and "Per Package" Calories

This would require certain foods in larger packages that might often be eaten in one sitting to give two different calorie and nutrition columns, one for a serving, and the other for the whole package. Is this a good move? Since people normally consume the whole package, does it make more sense to just list the calories and nutriton information for the entire package, or, will the dual columns help remind people that they are consuming a large amount, and perhaps help them make a better decision on how much they actually eat at one time? What do you think?


Proposed New Label


Proposed New Label

Potassium and Vitamin D Listing Required

I was surprised, recently when my doctor told me my blood-work showed I had low vitamin-D status. I knew this was common, but I didn't expect this result for myself. Along with potassium, vitamin-D is a common nutrient deficiency in the U.S., although the consequences of this may, or may not be, overstated. However, current labels only require vitamins A and C to be listed, even though neither of these nutrients are commonly deficient in the population. Manufacturers, could, of course, list the amount of vitamins A, C, or any other vitamins they wanted to add. In addition, these nutrient amounts would be given as actual amounts, rather than only the percentage contributed to a typical daily dietary intake. Daily values for a variety of nutrients, including fiber (raised), sodium, and vitamin D are will also be updated.

Calories from Fat Removed

As already mentioned, the current "calories from fat" listing will be removed and only the total calories will be given, in much larger print. "Total Fat," Saturated Fat," and Trans Fat" amounts will still be given, as, according the the agency, "research shows that type of fat is more important than the amount." The actual type of fat that is more important is currently hotly debated!

Percent Daily Value Will Go On Left Instead of Right

Certain facts will be more emphasized. In addition to the calorie listing, the Percent Daily Value will be moved to the left and also placed in a column, to make it more prominent. The servings per container listing will be much more prominent, appearing above the serving size, rather than below it in small print. The print size of the serving size amount will not changed, so that the servings per container are emphasized.

These are a lot of changes for labels that have been largely stagnant for 20 years. The last significant change made was in 2006 when trans fat information was required to be declared on the label, which caused many manufacturers to reduce the amount of hydrogenated fats in their foods. According to the FDA News Release:

The proposed updates reflect new dietary recommendations, consensus reports, and national survey data, such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrient intake recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, and intake data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The FDA also considered extensive input and comments from a wide range of stakeholders.

“By revamping the Nutrition Facts label, FDA wants to make it easier than ever for consumers to make better informed food choices that will support a healthy diet.” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.”

For further info see FDA consumer update and press announcement.

Let me know, by commenting, what you think about these new proposals. Will they help? Are they really reflective of current nutrition science? Do you have different ideas? If so, why?

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