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Updated Nutrition Facts Label

Graphic of new Nutrition Facts label (FDA)

The nutrition facts label needs no introduction because if you have bought food in the last 20 years in the U.S., you have seen one. Unfortunately, you (and many others) may not have been able to make sense of it. The current nutrition facts label is notoriously obtuse and difficult to understand. On Friday, May 20th 2016 it was announce that the FDA has finalized the changes to this label that they have been working on for the past two years. The updated nutrition facts label includes a few much needed changes. Let’s take a look:

Updated Nutrition Facts Label Changes

Serving Size

Old Rules: Companies made up whatever serving size they wanted. This allowed for some interesting claims. For instance, spray cooking oils sometimes claimed 0 calories per serving. They simply defined a serving as 1/3 of a second spray.

New Rules: Servings must be representative of what people are actually eating as a serving. I believe this is based on USDA survey data. It will be interesting to see if the serving size on Lay’s Sour Cream and Cheddar chips is “the whole damn bag.”

Servings Per Container

Old Rules: Again, companies could do pretty much whatever they wanted with the servings.

New Rules: There are two significant changes here: If a package could reasonably be considered either a single serving or multiple servings (like a pint of ice cream), the label will have two columns with the amounts listed for both situations. That’s helpful. If a package is a size that falls in between one and two servings (like a 20 oz drink), it must be labeled as one serving.

Calories

Old Rules: The calorie information was listed in the same size type as other nutrient info.

New Rules: The calories listing will be huge and bold.

Added Sugars

Old Rules: This category is new. Currently food manufactures do not have to distinguish between the sugars that naturally occur in a food and the sugar that has been added.

New Rules: The amount, in grams and percent daily value, of added sugar in a product must be listed. On a personal note, I’m pretty excited that this one made it through the industry-funded lobbying gauntlet.

Fat

Old Rules: There had to be line items for percent of calories coming from fat, grams of saturated fat, and grams of Trans fat.

New Rules: The percent of calories coming from fat is no longer required as the FDA now believes the type of fat in a diet to be more important than the percentage of total calories. I am disappointed that grams of mono- and polyunsaturated fats did not become a requirement.

Vitamins and Minerals

Old Rules: The vitamins A and C and the minerals sodium, calcium, and iron were required to be listed. Sodium had to be listed in grams and percent daily value but the rest were only listed as percent daily value.

New Rules: Vitamins A and C are gone. Deficiencies of those two are very rare nowadays. They have been replaced with vitamin D and potassium. Many people in the U.S. have low serum vitamin D levels so this makes sense. In addition to those swaps, all of the vitamins and minerals now must show their actual amount as well as percent daily value.

Housekeeping

The recommendations for daily intake of sodium and fiber changed with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and so the percentage values on these two nutrients must change as well. Fiber increased from 25 g/day to 28 g/day and sodium decreased from 2.4 g/day to 2.3 g/day.

That’s it!

These are pretty significant changes and overall they seem like good ones. I’m curious to see if overall consumption increases because people interpret the serving sizes as being recommendations rather than representing actual consumption. I’m also disappointed that cholesterol remains on the label as it is well established that dietary cholesterol has very little influence on serum cholesterol. Oh well. One thing at a time, I suppose. Added sugars being listed is a good thing.

Look for the updated nutrition facts label to start popping up soon. It is mandatory that it be implemented by 2018 but many companies will likely start earlier.

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