A Guide to Using the New Nutrition Facts Labels

In order to make nutrition labels more effective, and reflect the latest research in nutritional science, the FDA has mandated changes to Nutrition Fact Labels that will go into effect July 26, 2018. These changes are intended to make it easier for the general public to follow the best nutrition tips advocated by nutrition scientists and dietitians alike. More detail about these best nutrition tips, and the research that went into developing these updated dietary guidelines can be found in the Department of Health and Human Services 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This document makes it clear that there has indeed been updates to our understanding of nutrition, and that much of the recent research in nutrition science has been motivated by the desire to reduce the prevalence of preventable chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Starting July 26, 2018, Nutrition Facts labels will reflect the following changes…

1. Listing nutrition facts for vitamins A and C will no longer be required. Recent studies have shown that deficiencies in these vitamins are actually quite rare among Americans today. Although no longer required, nutrition facts for these vitamins may still be included on a voluntary basis, and will likely still be included on many labels

2. Vitamin D and Potassium are now required nutrition facts. Some studies have shown more than half of all Americans having some level of deficiency in Vitamin D. A 2013 article by Nutrition Facts puts the Potassium deficiency rate at 98%, reflecting low plant consumption in many modern diets.

3. Labels will now include “added sugars”. The new best diet practices makes a distinction between naturally occurring sugars, found in foods like oranges, and added sugars, found in a lot of packaged foods. Some diets even recommend eliminating added sugars altogether. Regardless, dietitians are increasingly making the distinction between the two.

4. Calories from fat will no longer be labelled. Nutritionists are now wanting consumers to focus more on the distinction between types of fat, rather than the total amount. Trans fats are the type of fats that need to be avoided.

5. Serving and whole package information will be included for most but not all packages. This is generally for packages containing what would formerly be considered more than two servings. Dual column labels will be used in these cases.

6. Serving size updates are made in some cases as well. Serving sizes have been changed, in many instances to reflect consumers actual behavior rather than recommended behavior. In many cases, this means serving sizes have been increased. Packages containing between one and two servings will now have their nutrition facts listed as one serving.

7. Daily recommended values have been updated for sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D. These values reflect new understanding of best dietary practices which are published in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

8. Calories, serving size, and servings per contain will appear in bigger font. This, along with other changes to Nutrition Facts Label reflect concern about portion sizes, and their connection to obesity and the preventable chronic diseases the FDA is hoping to help more Americans avoid.

9. Actual amounts and percent of recommended daily values must now be included for all items. Previously, some vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, and Vitamin D required only the percentage of recommended daily value be included. New labels will have amount per serving, and container for all nutrients.

10. A new footnote will offer further explanation of the percent of recommended daily value.

Many of these changes reflect a new focus on consumer experience with the Nutrition Facts Label. By considering how to make the labels more effective from the point of view of the typical American consumer, there is a better chance the FDA will get more people to follow the best nutrition tips, as it is currently understood. By getting the right amount of food and the proper nutrients, more Americans can live healthier lives, and be less likely to be affected by these curable chronic diseases.

It is important, though, that the consumers themselves do their part. While the FDA and other health professionals have worked hard to increase awareness of how eating habits can impact people’s lives, and the FDA is making improvements to the Nutrition Facts Label, consumer still need to…

1. Get in the habit of looking at the Nutrition Facts Label while grocery shopping.

2. Become comfortable with using these labels as part of planning a diet that follows best nutrition tips.

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