The Nutrition Facts food label is getting a makeover. More than 20 years since its debut, the label is catching up to current thinking in nutrition science as well as the reality of how people eat and drink today. Consumers will have bigger and clearer nutrient content information to guide their food choices.
When reading the new label, people should consider the amount of added sugar in the context of the food’s overall nutritional profile. For example, the small amount of added sugar in chocolate milk available in schools does not detract from the nutrition profile it delivers to students.
Reality Check for Calories, Serving Size
A big, bold number will leave no doubt about the calories contained in one serving of a food. Serving sizes on the new label will more accurately reflect typical portions eaten by Americans. According to the FDA, “serving sizes will be more realistic to reflect how much people typically eat at one time.” This could translate to either smaller or bigger serving sizes, depending on the food item. For instance, ice cream will be labeled 2/3 cup, instead of 1/2 cup. A serving size of yogurt will reflect the more common six-ounce container rather than the previous eight-ounce.
One of the biggest changes on the new label is a call-out for added sugars which lists the sum of “total sugars” followed by a line which differentiates the amount of added sugar. This breakdown will distinguish between naturally occurring sugar such as lactose and fructose and added sugar. Added sugars include the various sweeteners added to processed foods and beverages. While the list is long, some commonly added sugars include sucrose, dextrose, glucose, cane sugar, cane juice, molasses, honey, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and brown rice syrup.
When reading the new label, people should consider the amount of added sugar in the context of the food’s overall nutritional profile. For example, the small amount of added sugar in chocolate milk available in schools does not detract from the nutrition profile it delivers to students. Chocolate milk has the same nine nutrients as white milk with 48 calories from added sugar. Nutrition research proves the added sugar in chocolate milk and flavored yogurt can enhance the palatability, acceptance and help children enjoy the health benefits of dairy.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 advise limiting added sugars to no more than 10 percent of total calories, and this guidance is reflected in the new nutrition label design. For a typical 2000 calorie diet, that adds up to 12.5 teaspoons (50 grams) of added sugar. Even though that sounds like a lot, most Americans of all ages far exceed this recommendation.
Fats as a group are no longer vilified, instead the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 place emphasis on choosing reasonable amounts of healthier fats. As a result, the “calories from fats” line will disappear from the new label. The Percentage Daily Value has also been increased from 65 grams to 78 grams of fat for a 2000 calorie diet. This will result in some foods having a lower Percentage Daily Value for fat, including whole milk and cheese.
The vitamins and minerals listed on the new label will see changes with potassium and vitamin D replacing vitamins A and C. While Americans’ intake of vitamins A and C was once problematic, this is no longer the case. On the other hand, there is a public health concern because many Americans fall short when it comes to potassium and vitamin D. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure while vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Calcium and iron continue to be nutrients of concern and will remain in place. For all four nutrients, consumers will see the actual metric amounts in addition to the Percentage Daily Value.
The original target date for the new label was July 2018 with an additional year given to smaller companies to make the change. Now, the FDA has proposed pushing the dates back January 2020 (2021 for smaller companies). Some food companies are already in compliance and several food products are now sporting the new label.
Making Healthier Choices
The information and graphic presentation of the new label will help students and families to choose more wisely, serve as an awareness tool, and assist health professionals in deciphering the key nutrient contribution of packaged foods. As more foods and beverages become labeled, using the Nutrition Facts label in the classroom can serve as a starting point for a variety of lessons which integrate health, science, math and language arts. Visit thedairyalliance.com for more health information, nutrition tips and resources.