Due to federal nutrition label reform, the Nutrition Facts Label will get an update. This will revise the old regulations as set forth in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA). This act gave authority to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for nutrition labeling. Prior to this, food labeling was mostly voluntary and required only if a nutrient was added to a food or it promoted some health claim. But when Americans began consuming more packaged foods, it became clear that guidelines needed to be established in order to provide more information on the nutritional value of those foods. After almost 20 years, it is time to make some changes. There are a few reasons cited for this including an increase in research regarding the link between diet and risk of chronic disease, changes in serving sizes consumed and an emphasis on the overall diet with a focus on calories and serving sizes as important factors. The decision on what to include or eliminate from the food label was derived from scientific evidence, consensus reports, public comments (300,000 comments were received), petitions from consumers, food manufacturers, advocacy groups and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The key changes included mandatory addition of Added Sugars with percent daily value (%DV), new format to highlight calories and serving size, updated daily values and added nutrients of public health significance. Serving sizes will get an update based on typical portions consumed. The addition of Added Sugars under Total Carbohydrates was based on evidence that high intake of added sugars decrease intake of nutrient dense foods and increases calorie intake. We also know that a dietary pattern lower in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and it is hard to meet the nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if getting more than 10% of the total daily calories from added sugar. Added sugars are defined as any sugar that is added during processing or packaging. This includes any syrups, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, honey, molasses, sucrose or lactose that is added. Calories and serving size will be in larger print and displayed more prominently. Daily values will be based on recommended levels of nutrients for a general healthy population and a percentage of this value will be included for total fat, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sodium, potassium, calcium and vitamin D. The inclusion of vitamin D and potassium are now mandatory based on the fact that most Americans are not getting enough of these vital nutrients. Calcium and iron will continue to be included but vitamins A and C are no longer mandatory but may be included voluntarily. Each will list the amount as well as percent of daily value (%DV). Trans fat and dietary fiber will stay on label. There will also be a new requirement for food manufacturers to maintain records to verify certain nutrients included.
Serving sizes are calculated based on the reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs). Since serving sizes have changed over the past 20 years, these will be updated to reflect the change. Approximately 30 out of the 158 reference amounts will change. For example, ice cream no longer is calculated for 1/2 cup but for 2/3 cup, carbonated beverages went from 8 ounces to 12 ounces and yogurt decreased from 8 ounces to 6 ounces. For items that are considered single servings, the food label must indicate calories and nutrients for the entire package rather than per serving size since people typically consume the entire package at one time.
So when are these changes to take effect? Food manufacturers will have two years to comply but there is an exception for those businesses with less than $10 million in revenue who will have 3 years to comply. You will start seeing the new labels over the next year with most in compliance by July 2018.
The intent is for Americans to use this information in order to make informed decisions regarding their food choices. As more people become aware of diet’s effect on health and more information is available, maybe we will see a reduction in chronic disease. This reduction will likely result largely from a reduction in the obesity rate. We know that obesity is a major contributor to chronic disease. According to The Trust for America’s Health, there are 41 states that now have obesity rates over 25%. Twenty years ago no state had an obesity rate over 15%. If the trend continues, 51% of the population will be obese by 2030. Americans consume a total of 31% more calories than they did 40 years ago. Couple that with a mostly sedentary lifestyle and it is easy to see why America’s waistline has grown and so has the rate of chronic disease. They say knowledge is power. May more knowledge also bring us better health!