I woke up this morning with my twitter feed and email spammed with buzz around the new nutrition label. Yes, breaking (nutrition) news! The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is proposing changes to the nutrition label (first proposed changes in 20 years) you see on packaged foods and beverages.
Here is a visual from The NY Times:
Left is the current label, right is the new label
I tried to break it down for you- here are the key changes from this proposal (more info here)
1) Serving size and calories will be made more clear- instead of “servings per container” that many of us overlook, these words will be phrased as “__servings per container” and written in a bigger font. Calories will be in a bigger font, and the calories from fat will be removed (this just causes confusion).
2) Added sugar– this is one of my favorite changes. Yogurt is the perfect example. When you pick up a container of flavored yogurt and you see 20g of sugar listed on the nutrition label, often times, a lot of it is added sugar. Yogurt contains lactose, a naturally occurring sugar, which is also factored into this “sugar” category. However, how much is natural and how much is added? Having this added sugar component will really help consumers differentiate the sugary monsters and also make it easier to stick to no more than 6-9 teaspoons of added sugar a day, the recommendation from the American Heart Association.
3) Vitamin D- another one of my favorite changes because many people don’t realize that they are deficient in Vitamin D (I am guilty of this, I’ve had this tested a few years ago). NHANES data from 2005-2006 revealed a prevalence rate of Vit D deficiency to be 41.6%. I push a D supplement because it’s hard to meet your Vit D goals (Recommendation for 1-70 years old is 600 IU) since there aren’t that many foods rich in Vit D (fish, eggs, fortified milk and OJ, sun-exposed mushrooms). I think the label will help consumers understand that there really isn’t a lot of Vit D in the foods that they eat, which can motivate them to find ways to meet these goals (sun, supplement, more fish).
Some other changes:
- Daily limit for sodium will go from 2400 to 2300mg
- Potassium will be required in a product as well, Vit A and C will be optional
- Serving size requirements will change to reflect the amount that people typically eat. This will be helpful- no one really drinks half a bottle of a beverage and leave the rest.
As a dietitian (and a Snack Queen), reading nutrition labels is like second nature to me. I do the math in my head and I know the exact numbers for what I am looking for. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago when my friends started asking me for help and I when I began conducting supermarket tours for Cooking Matters that I realized how difficult it really is to understand a food label for someone not in the nutrition field.
There are hundreds of products in the supermarket. How do you decide what to healthy for you and for your kids? You may pick up a box of cereal, turn it around and look at the nutrition label and say “Is this too much sugar? How much is too much? Is this good for my kids? Should I be eating this?”
I applaud the FDA’s efforts in making nutrition labels easier to understand for consumers. Nutrition is confusing enough. You’re trying to make healthier choices (bravo!) but how do you do so if the label looks like a different language? It shouldn’t be this difficult to understand what is the in food we are eating. That’s why nutritionists are here to help. And now, the FDA has stepped in to help as well (thank you).
I hope to start seeing these new labels in the supermarket soon. Will this end obesity in America? No but I think it will help with making better food choices easier for those who want to be healthier. Remember, big changes start with small beginnings.