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Why the New Food Label? What to Tell Your Patients

New FDA nutrition facts label aims to make it easier for consumers to make informed choices about what they’re eating.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, noted “Our goal is to help people make better informed food choices that support a healthy diet. The changes are based on updated science that reinforces the link between diet and chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This is not about telling people what they should eat. It’s about making sure that they know what they’re eating. With that knowledge, they can make more healthful choices. For example, the new Nutrition Facts label includes the addition of information about added sugars.

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., FDA’s Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, was also asked the same question: “We all play many different roles in life. In addition to taking care of ourselves, we’re parents and grandparents who want to take good care of our families. We have busy lives, and we need ready access to information about the nutritional value of the foods we eat. That’s why design changes to the label will make it easier to see essential information at a glance; including calories and information about serving sizes and servings per container.“

“The label also reflects new or updated Daily Values (DVs), which are the reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and the basis of the percent Daily Value (% DV) on the nutrition label. In addition to added sugars, new nutrients that must be declared include Vitamin D, which is important in bone development, and potassium, which is good for controlling blood pressure; both nutrients of which people aren’t getting enough.

The FDA provides answers to likely consumer questions:

  1. Why are you changing the Nutrition Facts label?

The current label is more than 20 years old. In order to make sure consumers have access to more recent and accurate nutrition information about the foods they are eating, it’s time to make changes to the Nutrition Facts label. The changes announced today are based on updated scientific information, new nutrition and public health research, more recent dietary recommendations from expert groups, and input from the public.

  1. What major changes are you making?

The changes include modifying the list of required nutrients that must be declared on the label, updating serving size requirements, and providing a refreshed design. The new Nutrition Facts label will make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.

  1. Why must “added sugars” now be included?

The scientific evidence underlying the 2010 and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans support reducing caloric intake from added sugars; and expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization also recommend decreasing intake of added sugars.

In addition, it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars. On average, Americans get about 13 percent of their total calories from added sugars, with the major sources being sugar-sweetened beverages (including soft drinks, fruit drinks, coffee and tea, sport and energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages) and snacks and sweets (including grain-based desserts, dairy desserts, candies, sugars, jams, syrups, and sweet toppings).

The FDA recognizes that added sugars can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern. But if consumed in excess, it becomes more difficult to also eat foods with enough dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals and still stay within calorie limits. The updates to the label will help increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in foods. Consumers may or may not decide to reduce the consumption of certain foods with added sugars, based on their individual needs or preferences.

The final rule requires “Includes X g Added Sugars” to be included under “Total Sugars” to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to the product.

  1. Why is trans fat still on the label if the FDA is phasing it out?

Trans fat will be reduced but not eliminated from foods, so FDA will continue to require it on the label. In 2015, the FDA published a final determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the source of artificial trans fat, are not generally recognized as safe, but this determination would not affect naturally occurring trans fat, which would still exist in the food supply. Trans fat is present naturally in food from some animals, mainly ruminants such as cows and goats. Also, industry can currently use some oils that are approved as food additives and can still petition FDA for certain uses of PHOs.

  1. Why are vitamin D and potassium being added to the Nutrition Facts label?

Vitamin D and potassium are nutrients Americans don’t always get enough of, according to nationwide food consumption surveys (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/), and when lacking, are associated with increased risk of chronic disease. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health, and potassium helps to lower blood pressure. Calcium and iron are already required and will continue to be on the label.

  1. Why are you no longer requiring vitamins A and C?

In the early 1990’s, American diets lacked Vitamins A and C, but now Vitamins A and C deficiencies in the general population are rare. Manufacturers are still able to list these vitamins voluntarily.

  1. Will the new label look different?

You will still recognize the label, but we have made some improvements to the format to provide significant public health information. Changes include:

  • Highlighting “Calories,” “servings per container,” and the “Serving size” declaration by increasing the type size and placing the number of calories and the “Serving size” declaration in bold type.
  • Requiring manufacturers to declare the actual amount, in addition to percent Daily Value, of the mandatory vitamins and minerals.
  • Adding “Includes X g Added Sugars” directly beneath the listing for “Total Sugars.”
  • Changing the footnote to better explain the percent Daily Value. It will now read: “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
  1. I heard that some serving sizes will actually be bigger. That doesn’t seem to make sense with the obesity epidemic.

Some serving sizes will increase and others will decrease because by law, the serving sizes must be based on the amounts of food and drink that people typically consume, not on how much they should consume. Recent food consumption data show that some serving sizes need to be revised. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup and now is changing to ⅔ cup. The reference amount used to set a serving size of soda was previously 8 ounces and now is changing to 12 ounces. The reference amount for yogurt is decreasing from 8 ounces to 6 ounces. Nutrient information on the new label will be based on these updated serving sizes so it matches what people actually consume.

  1. How much time will manufacturers have to make these changes?

Manufacturers will have until July 26, 2018 to comply with the final requirements, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to make the changes.

  1. Will the new requirements apply to imported food?

Yes, foods imported to the United States will need to meet the final requirements.

Practice Pearls:

  • The label reflects new or updated Daily Values (DVs), which are the reference amounts of nutrients to consume.
  • New nutrients that have been added to the label include Vitamin D, which is important in bone development, and potassium, which is good for controlling blood pressure.
  • The updates to the label will help increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in foods.

 

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is FDA’s Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

“Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label,” FDA.gov, May 20, 2016.