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 changes to the food labels.
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 FDA recommendations have lead to the first major overhaul of the nutrition labels in 20 years. The only other major change came in 2006 when trans fats were separated and highlighted on labels.
I first wrote about the latest label changes when they were proposed in 2014. And recently those proposed changes became final.
The nutrition information that appeared on the first food labels as based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and 1980s and was before portion sizes grew significantly.
The new nutrition labels address 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 revised labels 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.
- Portion sizes will be adjusted to reflect a serving size that the average person consumes instead of what they should consume. For example, packages that are between one and two servings, like a 20-ounce soda, will be labeled as one serving because people normally consume it in one sitting.
- Larger packages will have dual column labels that 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.
- 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. The labels will still include amounts for total, saturated, and trans fats.
- A separate line will be included for added sugars to allow the consumer to differentiate between natural sugars and the refined sugars added by the manufacturer. It is now known how much of an impact added sugars can have on a person’s health.
- Vitamin D and potassium are replacing 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. Vitamins A and C are no longer required because people are rarely deficient in these nutrients.
- The final change is an update of daily values. The daily values for sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D will be updated to reflect the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine.
It will be a while before you see the new nutrition labels on your food. Manufacturers must comply with the changes by July 26, 2018. Manufacturers that have less than $10 million in food sales annually will have an extra year to comply.
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?