New FDA Rules: Judging Food By the Label Just Got Easier



Times and food labels are a-changin’ at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On Thursday, the agency revealed a redesigned nutrition label that, if approved, will clarify healthy versus unhealthy choices for consumers. In a press release, the FDA said it needed to revamp the labels to reflect current science and how people eat. The newer format includes making the calorie count more prominent, as well as how many servings the package holds.

Eating habits have changed since 1994 when serving sizes were first introduced, the FDA explains. Now, instead of detailing the caloric, and nutrient breakdown for what is recommended people consume, the label will have to inform people the amounts in what they are actually eating or drinking. With the new labels in place, a “half-size” label would no longer meet standards since people will not stop eating a bagel or muffin halfway through. Another change of ilk would be a second column, showing per serving, and per package levels. That way, when an item may be consumed in a few sittings, or even at once, people have an accurate picture of what it contains.

“For 20 years, consumers have come to rely on the iconic nutrition label to help them make healthier food choices,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D stated. “To remain relevant, the FDA’s newly proposed Nutrition Facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.”

The last major change to the label was introduced in 2006, when trans fat became an included line. This, along with saturated fat and total fat, will remain as a value with the updated information — however, calories from fat will disappear. The FDA justified this by saying the type of fat is a more important consideration than the amount.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” First Lady Michelle Obama said in the press release. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

The new guidelines require companies include information about added sugars. In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the United States Department of Agriculture found that a high intake of sodium, solid fats, saturated and trans fatty acids, cholesterol, and added sugars in the American diet was leading to an increased risk for chronic diseases.

Specifically, calories from added sugars formed approximately 16 percent of the average American’s daily intake. The foods with added sugars are generally not nutrient-dense, and are “empty calorie foods.” The report said that cutting out sources of added sugar would reduce a person’s overall caloric intake, without compromising their health. This also creates room in a person’s diet for healthier options, full of necessary vitamins and minerals.

The American Heart Association (AHA) responded to the development in a press release. The organization applauded the decision to include a new line about sugars, which the AHA believes will assist Americans to make better choices, and ultimately consume fewer added sugars. “Now, when Americans pull a product from the supermarket shelf, they will have a clear idea of how much sugar that product really contains,” AHA CEO Nancy Brown said in the statement.

In addition to raising awareness about what has been added to a product, the FDA wants to make consumers realize what might be missing. The FDA stated that because there is a risk of people in the U.S. not getting enough vitamin D, or potassium, manufacturers will be obliged to print that information. Vitamin C and A will become voluntary categories.

“We know that diets high in potassium help decrease the negative impact of sodium,” Brown explained. “This is especially true for African-Americans, who consume less potassium, tend to be more sensitive to sodium, and have higher prevalence of high blood pressure than other people.”

Also undergoing revision will be the “Daily Values” recommendations. The daily allowance for sodium will be lower, and vitamin D, fiber, and other nutrients will be altered to align them with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. “By revamping the Nutrition Facts label, FDA wants to make it easier than ever for consumers to make better informed food choices that will support a healthy diet.” Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine stated. “To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes.”

Meat, poultry, and processed egg products are within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and would not be impacted by the new labels. The new regulations are now open to public comments for 90 days.

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