FDA's New Food Labels Highlight Calories, Sugar

People looking to cut back on their calories and sugar intake won’t even have to squint with the new nutritional facts label from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Unveiled Thursday, the new labels seek to clarify serving sizes, as well as help consumers quickly identify common substances that can contribute to chronic disease, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The new labels change the identification of serving sizes, added sugars, and key nutrients many Americans are missing.

First Lady Michelle Obama is committed to improving the nation's health, and her staff played an important part in getting the proposal out of the FDA, where the labeling revamp has been in the works for several years.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said in a statement. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

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Changes to the New Nutrition Facts Label

Some changes in the proposed labels include:

  •       Refresh the format to emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes, and Percent Daily Value.
  •       Identify the amount of “added sugars” in food to help reduce the average amount consumed by Americans.
  •       Update serving size to reflect what people actually eat, namely whole packages of food that could be consumed in one sitting.
  •       Use the dual-column “per serving” and “per package” labels for larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings.
  •       Show levels of potassium and vitamin D, two nutrients many Americans need more of.
  •       Declarations of vitamins A and C content would no longer be required on the label.
  •       Revise the daily values for sodium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin D.
  •       Eliminate the “Calories from Fat” label, because research shows the type of fat is the most important.

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Experts Say the Change Is Long Overdue

Chris Ochner, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Adolescent Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, said that the number of calories in food is the most important thing a person should pay attention to, and that the new label’s emphasis on calories and realistic serving sizes are “very sorely needed changes.” 

“The expected move toward realistic serving size finally limits the ability for manufacturers to send the impression that individuals were not consuming excess calories, sugar, and saturated fats by listing nutrition facts for serving sizes much smaller than individuals would typically consume,” he said. 

Ochner used the example of a 20-ounce bottle of soda as an example. He said that while the soda would typically be consumed in one sitting, the container's label asserts that it contains 2.5 servings.

“Until now, they would only be provided with nutrition information for less than half of what they typically consumed,” he said. “Overall, the expected changes are not only welcome ... it is astounding that it took 20 years to overhaul a system that was notoriously unhelpful for consumers.”

Jaclyn London, senior clinical dietitian at Mount Sinai, called the new user-friendly label “laudable,” but she said the absence of fundamental nutrition education hinders behavior change in the long run.

“Although this is a significant step in consumer education, efforts to inform individuals on general, healthy diet and the importance of consuming fresh foods will remain an ongoing challenge as we move forward with this exciting new development,” she said.

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