In a press release posted on May 20, 2016, the US food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved changes to the Nutrition Facts label found on packaged foods sold in the US. The changes are intended to provide US consumers with more information about the ingredients in the food they are buying. “The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices – one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.
Food manufacturers are required to comply with the updated label guidelines by July 26, 2018. However, manufacturers who make less than $10 million a year from food sales have until July 26, 2019 to comply with the new label guidelines.
The Nutrition Facts label
Under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act passed in 1990, most packaged foods sold in the US are required to carry a nutrition label intended to provide consumers with information about the content of the food they are purchasing, and to ensure that nutrient content claims meet FDA regulations.1 Packaged food, with the exception of meat and poultry (labels on these products are subject to different legislation), became required to provide the Nutrition Facts label.2
Prior to the recent changes, each Nutrition Facts label began with a measurement for one serving, the amount of calories per serving, the amount of calories from fat, and the amount of servings per container. Following that was a breakdown of the different ingredients contained in one serving. Each label required a listing of total fat content, sodium, protein, and total carbohydrate content.3 The amount of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, sugar, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron were also required to be shown unless the amount of any of these nutrients was 0g, or close to 0g.3
Changes to the Nutritional Facts label
The new label is very similar to the old label, with a few key updates. The label changes were made with the goal of giving consumers more relevant information on the food they consume. These changes reflect current scientific knowledge on health issues, nutritional needs, nutritional harms, and consumer habits. The changes include:
- An updated design – highlighting the amount of calories, serving size, and servings per container by increasing the font size and putting the typeface in bold for calories and serving size.
- Different requirements for serving sizes based on changing consumer habits. Serving sizes are to reflect how much of the product is typically consumed at one time.
- A new “added sugars” category; manufacturers are required to disclose the percent daily value (%DV) and the amount in grams of added sugars in the product. This requirement reflects scientific evidence that shows it is difficult to fulfill nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars.
- Labels for specific multi-serving products that can be completely consumed in one or more sittings must include both “per serving” and “per package” information. The labels must display “dual columns” showing the amount of calories and other nutrients contained in one serving, as well as in the entire container. Thus, it will be easier for consumers to figure out how many calories and nutrients they are consuming if they consume the entire amount in one sitting.
- Containers/packages containing between one and two servings must be labeled as containing one serving, since people often consume these types of products in one sitting (e.g. a soda bottle).
- A footnote explaining the %DV – daily values refer to the amount of a nutrient that should be consumed each day, and the %DV displays the percentage of the daily value the amount of the nutrient contained in one serving fulfills.
- Updated daily values for nutrients such as sodium, fiber, and vitamin D to better reflect the Institute of Medicine’s current recommendations, and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Information on vitamin D and potassium must include the amount in grams as well as the %DV, since some people are not receiving enough of these nutrients.
- Vitamins A and C are no longer required to display gram amounts alongside %DV, since deficiencies in these nutrients are rare.
- Labels no longer need to display the amount of “calories from fat” since research has shown that the type of fat consumed is more important to health than the amount of calories consumed from fat. However, labels must continue to include “total fat”, “saturated fat”, and “trans fat”.
These updated guidelines are the most significant changes to the Nutrition Facts label since it was introduced.
Though there has been some debate surrounding the changes, the most significant point of contention between the FDA and the food industry is the requirement that manufacturers include the amount of added sugars contained within the product. Previously, it was impossible to tell how much sugar had been added during production unless the company decided to disclose it, while the new changes make it mandatory to disclose the amount of added sugars.
According to the FDA, the new rule was created since “expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization… recommend decreasing intake of added sugars” since on average, Americans consume more than twice the recommended levels of sugar.4, 5 Consuming high levels of sugar is known to increase body weight and body fat, and sugar consumption is also associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.6, 7 Sugar has little nutritional value compared to its caloric content, so the FDA is concerned that receiving over 10% of daily energy intake from sugar makes it difficult for consumers to stay under calorie limits while receiving enough essential nutrients.
Corporations, manufacturers, and others within the food industry oppose the changes, arguing that making a distinction between added sugars and natural sugars is unnecessary. These groups believe there is not enough scientific evidence to justify the new requirements, since added sugars have not been shown to have more negative health effects than natural sugars.8
- “Milestones in U.S. Food and Drug Law History”. FDA. Retrieved4 July 2016.
- Saltos E, Davis C, et al. (December 1994).“Using Food Labels To Follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: A Reference”. Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 704. United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- “Food Labeling Guide”. FDA. January 2013. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- “Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children”. World Health Organization. 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- Ferdman, Roberto A. (25 June 2014).“How the sugar lobby helps perpetuate that sweet tooth of yours”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
- Welsh, Jean A.; Sharma, Andrea; Cunningham, Solveig A.; Vos, Miriam B. (2011). “Consumption of Added Sugars and Indicators of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among US Adolescents”. Circulation123 (3): 249–57.
- Janne C. de Ruyter; Margreet R. Olthof; Jacob C. Seidell & Martijn B. Katan (October 2012).“A Trial of Sugar-free or Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Body Weight in Children”. New England Journal of Medicine 367 (15): 1397–1406.
- Prentice, Chris (4 August 2014).“Food fight builds as U.S. regulators weigh ‘added sugar’ label”. Reuters. Retrieved 5 July 2016.