The familiar Nutrition Facts label is undergoing a makeover. It’s been more than 20 years since it was first introduced, and with the exception of adding a line for trans fat in 2006, the label has remained unchanged since 1993.
The FDA has proposed updates to the label that better reflect our dietary habits and our current understanding of nutrition science. And while the new label isn’t perfect, the suggested modifications will make it even easier for us to make informed decisions about the food and drink we consume.
The proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label are open for public comment until June 2. See the full details and submit your comments at Fda.gov. Here’s a summary of the recommended revisions you’ll see:
Added sugars. This is my favorite part of the proposed revision. As registered dietitians, we’re always suggesting to limit added sugar (the American Heart Association recommends a daily upper limit of 25 grams for women. 32 grams for men). But since the current food label simply lists the total sugar content, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between added sugars (like honey, agave. High fructose corn syrup) and naturally occurring sugars (like those from milk, fruits. Vegetables).
The proposed new label for a carton of 99 percent fat free Yoplait yogurt. Example, would've to disclose just how much of its 26 grams of sugar is from added sugar (it’s more than half). And for a Kellogg’s Special K Protein shake, we'd be able to see how much of its 18 grams of sugar is from naturally occurring milk sugar, versus added sugar and corn syrup solids.
More prominent calories and serving sizes. It’s hard to miss these on the proposed new label, thanks to the giant, bold font used for each. Just keep in mind, however, calories don’t give the full nutritional picture. A product with 300 protein- and fiber-rich calories is likely a better choice than something with 200 fat-free calories of mostly added sugar.
Serving sizes are closer to how much we actually consume. Under the proposed new label regulations, packaged foods that are typically consumed in one sitting must be labeled as a single serving. So the label on that 20-ounce soft drink will reflect the entire 20 ounces, not 2.5 eight-ounce servings.
Another great addition is that larger packages that could conceivably be consumed in one sitting, like a pint of ice cream, will have two columns on the label —. One to indicate nutrition facts per “single serving”. One for the entire container.
And even these “single-serving”. Sizes are getting a reality check. The current serving size for ice cream. Example, is half a cup —. About what fits into a cupcake wrapper. The proposed new guidelines call for a serving size of one cup of ice cream. That the nutrition stats on the label will more accurately reflect how much people typically consume at one time.
Potassium and vitamin D will be included on the label, in addition to calcium and iron (vitamins A and C will be optional). Research has shown that a potassium-rich diet can be beneficial in lowering blood pressure. That vitamin D is key for bone health, among other health benefits —. A significant percentage of the population isn’t getting enough of either of these nutrients.
More emphasis on Percent Daily Value. I’ve never been a big fan of the “% DV”. Column on the current label. I like it even less now that it’s on the left side of the label, giving it even more prominence. I’ve found that it can be confusing to the consumer. It doesn’t necessarily reflect how much we really need. It’s based on a very general 2,000-calorie diet). Our own individual needs can be vastly different from this standard recommended intake.
For example, the percent daily value of sodium is based on a recommended intake of 2,300 mg daily. Some individuals —. Particularly those who are 51 and older. Have an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes. Kidney disease —. Should limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily.
And if you consumed enough carbs to reach 100 percent of the daily value, you'd be getting just more than 300 grams of carbs daily –which may be much more than needed, particularly for those with certain health issues, such as insulin resistance, diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
What I wish we'd see on the new label:
Soluble fiber. We know that soluble fiber can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce bad LDL cholesterol levels. Nutrition facts labels usually just list total fiber, lumping soluble and insoluble fiber all together.
Isolated fiber. Much of the health benefits associated with fiber are centered on real, whole, fiber-rich foods, such as legumes, whole grains fruits. Vegetables. But it’s becoming increasingly more common for isolated fibers, like inulin and chicory root, to be added to packaged foods, bumping up the fiber count on the nutrition facts label, without adding the benefits of real, whole-food fiber. And while these isolated fibers themselves aren’t a bad thing, the problem is when they’re added to not-so-nutritious foods like cookies, candy bars. Brownies. If isolated fibers were required on food labels, at least we could see just how much of the fiber in that Fiber One Brownie is from chicory root extract and sugarcane fiber (nearly all of it). How much is from naturally occurring whole grain fiber (almost zero).