Seeing different Nutrition Facts labels? Here’s why.

nutrition facts panel

By:  Rheanna Smith, Nutrition Peer Counselor, UC Davis

You might be familiar with the nutrition label on the back of all packaged food items, well, that age-old label is finally getting a makeover! On May 20, 2016 the FDA announced that there was going to be an update to the nutrition facts label based upon new scientific research. While the announcement was made quite a while ago, companies were not required to comply and update their packaging until July of 2018. Even so, there was quite a bit of push-back from companies and so the FDA decided to extend the compliance dates. Currently companies with less than $10 million in annual sales have until January 2021 to update their labels, but larger companies with over $10 million in annual sales must comply by January 2020. That being said there are a number of companies who have already made the switch so you might already be seeing the new label on your groceries!

The iconic look of the nutrition facts label still remains, however, the information on it has been updated in five major ways to reflect modern eating habits and dietary deficiencies in the United States. The first major change is that standard serving size has been updated to reflect the amount that people realistically eat. For example, chip bags that are not resealable must include the nutrition information for the entire package and not just a portion. Another example is that the standard serving size for ice cream has been increased from ½ cup to ¾ cup to more accurately represent the amount that is typically consumed in a sitting. This simple change will make it much easier for consumers to stay informed and keep track of serving sizes.

The second notable change is that any added sugar in a food product must now be listed. This change is huge because, up until now, food manufactures could use as much added sugar as they wanted- without having to list it on the nutrition facts label. Although added sugars and intrinsic sugars (sugars found naturally in food) are structurally the same and are treated the same by our bodies, recent research has correlated added sugar consumption with metabolic disease states, such as obesity and diabetes. The current dietary guidelines recommend to limit your added sugar consumption to less than 10% of your caloric intake per day. By listing the amount of added sugar on the new nutrient facts label it will be much easier to monitor added sugar intake.

The third major change is that the calories from fat section has been removed. The gram amount and percent daily value for fat are still required, but the specific amount of calories is no longer required. This is because recent research on fat has shown us that different types of fat effect the body differently and that not all fat is bad! The calories from fat were required to be listed because all fat was considered bad due to association with heart disease. We now know that it is only saturated fat that leads to heart disease and that mono and poly unsaturated fats, like olive and avocado oil, are actually heart healthy oils that are important to include in the diet. Due to this new concept of ‘good fats’ versus ‘bad fats’ the calorie amount has been removed because it matters much more which type of fat you are consuming rather than the sheer caloric amount.

The fourth big change seen on the new label is an update to the nutrients required to be listed. On the old label Vitamin C and Vitamin A were required, but they are no longer required on the new label! This is because deficiencies in these vitamins are very rare in the U.S., therefore the FDA deems it unnecessary to have them listed any longer. However, recent research has indicated that the average American doesn’t get enough Vitamin D or Potassium so those two nutrients are now required to be listed. The goal of this is to make it easier to monitor your daily intake of important nutrients.

The fifth and final change is an update of the daily values for a number of nutrients listed on the label. Daily values (DV) represent the percentage of a certain nutrient’s ‘daily requirement’ contained within the food product based on a 2000 calorie diet. This makes it helpful for consumers because sometimes the gram or microgram amount of a nutrient is not easy to interpret. If you read a DV of 25% calcium then you know that the food product contributes 25% of the necessary daily value for someone on a 2000 calorie diet. The DV’s for fiber, potassium, calcium, and fat have increased on the new label. The DV for fiber has increased from 25g per day to 28g per day, the DV for calcium has increased from 1000mg to 1300mg, the DV for potassium increased from 3500mg to 4700mg, and the DV for fat has increased from 65g to 78g. These changes all reflect recent research that has indicated that Americans are not getting enough of these nutrients, with the exception of fat. The DV for fat has increased not because Americans aren’t getting enough fat, but rather because research has shown that healthy fats such as unsaturated fats and omega fatty acids are essential and therefore should be incorporated daily. The increase in the DV for fat is aimed towards increasing these healthy fats, not necessarily all fat.

While there have been a lot of updates to keep track of, the major take-home message is that the nutrition facts label is a tool that is available as you decide which foods meet your goals! Reading nutrition labels is a great way to take control of your health. When you are more aware about a food you can make more thoughtful decisions on your own eating habits, and therefore optimize your health! Next time you’re out grocery shopping take some time to look at the nutrition facts label!

Sources:

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Labeling & Nutrition – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm.

“Nutrition.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Sept. 2016, www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html

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