How New Nutrition Label Will Help You Eat Wisely

Update reflects current science on diet’s link to disease

Nutrition Facts label

A new Nutrition Facts label is coming to a store near you. The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced proposed revisions aimed at simplifying the familiar panel, which appears on nearly 700,000 packaged foods and beverages.

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The FDA updated the label just once since its release 20 years ago.

The makeover reflects current scientific information about the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease, the FDA says.

“This is a really huge improvement for the Nutrition Facts label,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, wellness manager at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “Our knowledge has grown so much in the 20 years since the label was first introduced. These revisions offer several pieces of information that will help to reduce consumer confusion.”

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The proposed label would:

  • Include the amount of “added sugars” in packaged food. The FDA says it wants to add this because of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which said U.S. calorie intake from added sugar is too high and should come down. “Most consumers cannot tell the difference between sugar that is naturally occurring and sugar added during food processing,” Ms. Kirkpatrick says. “With so much evidence about the adverse effects of sugar on the body, this will be wonderful thing.”
  • Update serving size requirements to reflect the portions people actually consume. Food and drink preferences have changed since the FDA created serving sizes in 1994. By law, serving sizes are based on the portion consumers actually eat, rather than the amount they “should” be eating.
  • List calorie and nutrition information for the entire package of some foods and drinks. Some packages are slightly larger than single servings, which encourages consumption of the entire food. For example, you might eat a serving and a half of chips thinking it’s a single serving because of the bag’s smallish size. This new information helps you decide whether to polish off the whole bag. “Whether or not that means people will just eat one serving, that remains to be seen,” Ms. Kirkpatrick says.
  • Update daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D. Daily values are the basis of the Percent Daily Value listed on the label, which help consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet. Current scientific knowledge has rendered the current sodium daily value levels, in particular, out-of-date, Ms. Kirkpatrick says.
  • Remove the “Calories from Fat” information. Research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount, Ms. Kirkpatrick says. “What we want to communicate to people is that there are good and bad fats. To clump them all together doesn’t really make sense anymore.”
  • Emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes and Percent Daily Value. These elements are important, the FDA says, to address public health problems like obesity and heart disease. 

Don’t look for the new labels to appear on store shelves any time soon. The process of implementing the revisions could take a year or more .

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