Changes and Setbacks to the Nutrition Facts Label

26 Oct 2017 7:00 AM | Anonymous

In 2016, the FDA rolled out a plan to update the Nutrition Facts Label, based on current science and nutrition recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. On first glance, the new label may not seem significantly different, but there are some key changes that are important for dietitians to understand. 

The most noticeable change is larger-print calories and servings per container, which allows for consumers to more easily determine how many calories are in a serving. Serving sizes on products are often unrealistically small; the new guidelines require serving sizes to be updated, reflecting present-day portion sizes. For packaged foods that can (and often are) consumed in one sitting, companies are now required to provide “per package” nutrition information. 

The FDA decided to remove “calories from fat” from the label, sending the message that the type of fat is more important than total grams of fat. 

Added sugars are going on the label, which is pretty remarkable considering the overhead this will cause for food companies. Added sugars are often difficult to track, because companies need to record all sugars coming from any ingredient that contain added sugars. The FDA defines added sugars as anything that increases the natural sweetness of a product, including honey, concentrated fruit juices, maple syrup, table sugar and HFCS. 

Total carbohydrate recommendations will be reduced from 300 grams to 270 grams for a 2000 calorie diet. Percentage daily value of added sugar will be calculated based on the recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs when greater than 10% of caloric intake comes from added sugars (this amounts to 50 grams for a 2000 calorie diet). 

Vitamin D and potassium are now required to be listed on the label, while vitamins A and C will become optional. 

The DRV for dietary fiber has increased from 25 to 28 grams, so the percentage daily value for fiber on products will look a bit lower. Only certain fibers that have proven nutritional benefit will be counted toward total fiber on the new nutrition facts label. These fibers include: beta-glucan soluble fiber (soluble), psyllium husk (mostly soluble), cellulose (insoluble), guar gum (soluble), pectin (soluble)

locust bean gum (soluble) and hydroxypropylmethcellulose (soluble). Any fiber not on this list (for example, inulin) will now be considered part of total carbohydrates, rather than adding to the total fiber of a product. 

Our thoughts:

  • Per package nutritionals will make it easy for consumers to determine the impact of over-eating without doing complicated mental math…but, at the same time, we know that many consumers do not understand their calorie needs.
  • Removing “calories from fat” is certainly a win for our profession, as it aligns with the message that type of fat matters more than total fat consumed. 
  • Adding “added sugars” to the label helps consumers decipher naturally-occurring sugars like lactose and fructose from table sugar, HFCS, etc. This may help reduce consumption of added sugars over time, or it may pressure food companies to reformulate their products to contain less added sugar. 
  • There has never been an RDA for sugar; the new label suggests adults consume less than 50 grams of added sugar per day, which supports our message to reduce added sugar intake. A 16 ounce Coca-Cola contains 52 grams of added sugar, meaning the label will report 104% of the daily value; this may make consumers second guess their beverage choices. 
  • Adding potassium to the list of required listed nutrients will help consumers following a renal diet, and adding vitamin D to the list of required listed nutrients may help consumers who are deficient in vitamin D. 

The FDA initially planned to enforce these updates by 2018, allowing smaller companies (with <$10 million in annual sales) to comply by 2020; however, the FDA recently proposed to delay compliance until 2020 for all companies, and 2021 for small companies. 

What can we do? If you agree that the new nutrition facts label will be more transparent and accurate and will help consumers make healthier food choices, fill out this call to action plan to voice your opinion.  

If you are interested in learning more, Abbott offers free CPEUs for their Nutrition Facts Label courses. You can also learn more on the FDA’s website

Written by: Sara Scheler, RDN 

Photo credit: NBC News

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