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Clock Ticking for Food Label Overhaul

Nov 17, 2018
 

Author: Steve Freed, R.PH., CDE


The Nutrition Facts label that you may read when buying packaged foods or preparing a meal has undergone a makeover.

Food labels have been updated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reflect the latest scientific findings. These changes can help you and your patients make better-informed choices about the foods you and your patients’ families eat and help to maintain a healthy diet.

Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales have until 2020 before the new label is required, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have until 2021. Some manufacturers have already started using the new label. In fact, at least 10 percent of packages being sold already carry the new label.  Knowing how to read a food label can actually help people with diabetes to manage their blood sugars. So until the deadlines, you may see one of two different versions on packages: either the original label you’ve grown accustomed to using or the new label.

The new label reflects updated scientific information, including our greater understanding of the links between diet and chronic disease. It is also more realistic about how people eat today. Here are some of the changes:

  1. The new label makes it easier if you or a member of your family is counting calories by putting the calories, the number of servings, and the serving size in larger, bolder type. The importance of highlighting these numbers is because nearly 40 percent of American adults have  obesity, and obesity is associated with heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and diabetes.
  2. FDA is required to base serving sizes on what people actually eat and drink, so serving size requirements have been adjusted to reflect more recent consumption data.  This way, the nutrition information provided for each serving is more realistic. For certain packages that contain more than one serving, you will see nutrition information per serving as well as per package. That means for a pint of ice cream, calories and nutrients are listed for one serving and the whole container.
  3. Added sugars are now listed to help you know how much you are consuming. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. That is because it is difficult to get the nutrients needed for health while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.
  4. Good nutrition means that you are getting the right amount of nutrients for your body to function correctly and to fight chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. The FDA has updated the list of nutrients required on the label to include Vitamin D and Potassium because Americans today do not always get the recommended amounts of these nutrients. Conversely, Vitamins A and C are no longer required, because deficiencies in these vitamins are rare today, but they can be listed by manufacturers voluntarily.
  5. The old label lists calories from fats, but the new label does not. The FDA made this change because research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than total fats. For example, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in most vegetable oils and nuts, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease when eaten in place of saturated and transfat.
  6. Daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin D have been updated and are used to calculate the % Daily Value (DV) seen on the label. The % DV helps you understand the nutrition information in the context of a daily diet. The footnote at the bottom of the label has changed to better explain the meaning of the % DV.

This week’s Tool for your Practice is a handout  that explains both versions of the USDA food label. Every one of your patients should be given a copy to review and share with their families.