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A lot has changed in the American diet since the Nutrition Facts label was introduced in 1993 to provide important nutrition information on food packages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has brought this familiar rectangular box—one of the most recognized graphics in the world—up to date with changes to its design and content.
The changes are based on more recent information in nutrition science, consensus reports from public health agencies, and public health and nutrition surveys.
For instance, people are eating larger portions of certain foods. Rates of obesity, heart disease and stroke remain high. And more is known about the relationship between diet and the risk of chronic diseases.
“While the label’s iconic look is staying the same, the newer version emphasizes important items, such as calories and serving sizes—items that can help consumers make healthier choices for themselves and their families,” says Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “In addition, the new label will require the listing of added sugars.”
This is consistent with the 2010 and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend reducing calories from added sugars.
Claudine Kavanaugh, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a health scientist at FDA, explains what you will see within the next two years.
- The first thing you may notice is a greater emphasis—with larger and bolder type—on calories. “The number of calories is especially important to maintaining a healthy weight,” says Kavanaugh.
- Calories from fat are no longer listed. “We know that the type of fat is more important than the total amount of fat,” says Kavanaugh. Declarations for total, saturated, and trans fat are still required.
- The number of servings per package is more prominent. And the serving size is bolded. FDA has updated serving sizes to reflect how much people currently eat, according to more recent food consumption data.
- The footnote is changing to better explain what percent Daily Value means. It will read: “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
- For the first time “Added Sugars” is included on the label. On average, Americans eat 13 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. But scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugars.
Added sugars must be listed both in grams and as the percent Daily Value, which tells you how much of a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet.
“Some people are eating too many foods with ‘added sugars’ and are not getting all the other nutrients they need,” says Kavanaugh.
An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report stated that many foods and beverages that are major sources of added sugars have low levels of nutrients such as vitamins. Expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization also recommend decreasing the intake of calories from added sugars in the diet.
- FDA wants to help you put nutrient information in context, so it has updated Daily Values for various nutrients, such as dietary fiber, Vitamin D and sodium. Daily Values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value (%DV) on the label.
- Potassium and Vitamin D are now required on the label. Vitamin D is important for healthy bones, especially among women and the elderly. And potassium helps to lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension. “We have evidence that people are not consuming enough of these nutrients to protect against chronic diseases,” says Kavanaugh. Manufacturers must also declare the actual amount, in addition to percent Daily Value, of Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. They can voluntarily declare the gram amount for other vitamins and minerals.
- Mandatory labeling is no longer required for Vitamins C and A because the data indicate that deficiencies of those vitamins are not as common.
“All of us are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke over our lifetime, and many of us simply want to eat fewer calories,” Kavanaugh says. For example,
- If you are concerned about high blood pressure and stroke, you may want to pay particular attention to sodium and potassium amounts on food labels.
- For cardiovascular health, seek foods lower in saturated fats, trans fats and sodium. Because products labeled “0” trans fat may contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat, also check the ingredient statement and avoid partially hydrogenated oils, which are the largest contributor to artificial trans fat.
- For weight control, keep in mind your caloric intake.
Most manufacturers will have until July 26, 2018, to comply with the final requirements, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to make the changes.
Kavanaugh stresses that the primary goal is not to tell consumers what they should be eating, but to expand and highlight the information they most need. “It’s all about providing information that people can use to make their own choices,” she says.
This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
Updated: August 18, 2016