FDA Nutrition Label Update: How to Read the New Food Label

For three decades, the Nutrition Facts panel on the food label has provided a nutritional snapshot of the food inside a package. By law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that the label must list not only calories, but also other important nutritional information, such as the amount of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium that are harmful to your body. heart per serving.

With more than half of all adults currently suffering from one or more preventable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity – all linked to unhealthy diets and physical inactivity – the Food and Drug Administration has decided the label needed a makeover. The FDA updated the Nutrition Facts label requirements in 2016, and food manufacturers began implementing the requirements in 2020 and 2021.

The majority of Americans use the Nutrition Facts label to guide their food choices. According to an FDA survey, 87% of American adults have consulted the Nutrition Facts panel.

The four main factors consumers consider when making food choices are:

  • calories.
  • total sugar.
  • Sodium.
  • Portion.

(Courtesy of the United States Food and Drug Administration)

The new portions

Have you ever measured half a cup of ice cream? It’s certainly not a lot, but it’s the amount that was previously used as the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label. The FDA has now changed the serving size of ice cream to two-thirds of a cup. On the new labels, serving sizes represent how much a person is actually likely to eat or drink rather than what they should be consuming. For example, because a can of soda contains 12 ounces, the Nutrition Facts label must contain nutritional information for that amount, rather than the eight-ounce serving that was previously referenced.

The FDA offers guidance regarding new serving sizes. Serving size, again, is not a recommendation of how much to eat or drink, but how much an average person is likely to eat. So if you’re trying to lose weight or eat healthy for other reasons, it’s safe to stick to half a serving of ice cream.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that a packet of food can still contain more than one serving. Some food packages will have two columns: one listing the amount of calories and nutrients in a serving and the other detailing the amount in the whole package.

The serving size is also in bold, easy-to-read letters that will catch your eye at the grocery store.

Serving Sizes on the New Nutrition Facts Label

(Courtesy of the United States Food and Drug Administration)

You can’t miss the calories

Speaking of calories, you won’t be able to ignore them – they’re now printed in large print on every nutrition facts label. Regardless of what you want to believe, calories still matter for weight and overall health. Even in people who are considered healthy weights, reducing calories slightly (about 300 calories per day) improves health parameters such as blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and measures of inflammation, insulin resistance and glycemic control.

Ann Silver, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in private practice in the Hamptons of Long Island, says that rather than asking people to count calories, she encourages them to be more in touch with their internal hunger cues — eating when they’re hungry, stop when they are full and, especially if they are sedentary after dinner, choose non-starchy vegetables for the evening meal. For these reasons, she’s not sure the huge, bold number of calories on each label is all that helpful. Instead, she’d like to see saturated fat or fiber in bigger, bolder type.

It focuses on a non-dietary approach and categorizes foods into “always foods and sometimes foods.” Her clients are allowed to eat everything, but there are some things no one should eat at every meal or every day. This is how we teach children to eat, but dietetic culture has eliminated this balanced way of eating for many adults.

Nutrition Facts Daily Values

The National Institutes of Health recommend that a moderately active, middle-aged woman consume 2,000 calories per day, and a moderately active, middle-aged man should aim for 2,400 to 2,600 calories. To make things simple and consistent, 2,000 calories per day is the standard used for general nutritional advice and on which daily values ​​on nutrition labels are based.

Although “a total intake of 2,000 calories per day is used as a general guide for nutritional advice, individual caloric needs may be higher or lower and vary by age, gender and level of physical activity. “, according to Joy Dubost, a scientist and registered dietitian in St. Petersburg, Florida. She recommends consulting the Food and Drug Administration document to help you determine your individual calorie needs.

She also reminds people to “keep in mind that comparing calorie values ​​is helpful, but also to review the rest of the nutritional information, including nutrients like calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamin D to keep healthy.” ensure that the calories you consume also provide essential nutrients to your diet. Percent Daily Value (%DV) shows how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a total daily diet. »

Added sugar

According to some research, the average American now consumes 285 calories of added sugar each day, which equals 19 teaspoons. The recommendation is no more than 100 calories, or six teaspoons of added sugar for women each day and 150 calories or nine teaspoons for men. Consider that a single piece of dark cake at the Cheesecake Factory contains 33 teaspoons of sugar, and you can see why Americans have a real problem with the sweet stuff.

Although nearly three-quarters of Americans say they are trying to reduce their sugar intake, it is clear that we are losing the battle. Research shows that too much added sugar in the diet increases the risk of developing heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hormonal imbalances, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, gout, type 1 diabetes. 2 and obesity.

Natural sugar vs added sugar

The 12 grams of natural sugars in a cup of milk in the form of lactose or the 19 grams of fructose in a medium apple are not alarming. The sugar that experts recommend limiting to 100 to 150 calories per day is called added sugar.

“Added sugars include sugars that are added during food processing (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from juices of concentrated fruits or vegetables,” explains Dubost. “They don’t include the natural sugars found in milk, fruits and vegetables.”

Until the label changed, however, it was difficult to discern which sugars in foods were naturally present and which were added. The new labels solve this problem by clearly distinguishing total sugars from added sugars.

Vitamins A and C are not really a concern these days

Because vitamin A and C deficiencies are rare these days, their inclusion on the updated Nutrition Facts label is strictly voluntary. Vitamin A is found in many fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, and cantaloupe. You can also find this nutrient in fish oil, milk, eggs, and a wide variety of fortified foods. The best sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, white potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.

Vitamin D and potassium are a health concern

The vast majority of Americans do not get enough of these critically important nutrients. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “Calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D are considered dietary components of public health concern for the general U.S. population because low intakes are associated with health problems. health”. Although calcium and fiber have always been listed on the Nutrition Facts label, vitamin D and potassium are new additions.

Vitamin D is integral to bone health and muscle strength and may also play a role in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The best sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, although lesser amounts are found in egg yolks, cheese, beef liver and some mushrooms. Many foods and supplements these days are also fortified with vitamin D.

Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte, which helps maintain body fluids, supports normal blood pressure and plays an important role in muscle contraction. Rich sources of potassium include dried fruits, beans, lentils, potatoes, winter squash, leafy greens, avocado, bananas, cantaloupe, and oranges. Besides fruits and vegetables, you can find potassium in chicken, salmon, dairy products, cashews and almonds.

Updated Daily Values

The Daily Values ​​(DV) of nutrients on the Nutrition Facts label have also been updated to reflect the latest research. For example, the daily values ​​for fibre, calcium and magnesium increased, while those for sodium and carbohydrates decreased.

A food with a DV of 5% or less of a nutrient is considered low. You want a low DV for saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. A DV of 20% or more of a nutrient is considered high. You want to choose foods with a high DV of dietary fiber, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium.

It’s not the amount of fat, but the type

Because the latest research indicates that the type of fat we eat matters more than the amount, calories from fat have been dropped from the new label. Unsaturated fats, found in foods such as avocado, canola oil, fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, and tuna), and nuts improve blood lipids, reduce dangerous inflammation throughout the body and keep heart rates regular and stable.

Alternatively, saturated fats found in foods including beef, sausages, bacon, cheese and ice cream increase the risk of many health problems including coronary heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Most health experts agree that these changes to the Nutrition Facts label are welcome and can help improve the well-being of the average consumer. By paying attention to a few key numbers, you can better control your health.

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