Nutrition labels may be getting a much-needed facelift, compliments of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s been about two decades since the labels that adorn our favorite packaged foods and beverages have been revised, and a lot has changed since then, from portion sizes to which foods we now consider healthy.
The new labels are meant to reflect this evolution in nutrition and dietary recommendations, but the redesign is not a done deal yet. The FDA will listen to comments on the changes for the next 90 days and then issue a final ruling. If the changes are adopted, the food industry will have two years to comply with the new label design.
The FDA released a ton of helpful information about the proposed changes which, they say, "aim to inform better food choices." Check out an example of the proposed new label below and read on for the top four takeaways you need to know.
1. Sugar is the new fat. Until fairly recently, fat was considered a health-sabotaging villain. But now added sugar is believed to be the real cardiovascular disease-causing culprit Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, et al. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014 Feb 3.. “The addition of sugar to foods and drinks dilutes the nutritional value,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. Though the FDA has not made any recommendation for daily sugar intake, the new labels will distinguish between naturally-occurring sugar and sweeteners that have been added by manufacturers, which will help us keep our sugar intake to the American Heart Association's recommended allowance of six to nine teaspoons per day, tops. (After all, one thing we know for sure is that added sugar is bad for us and we are getting too much of it.)
2. Fat is phat. When it comes to dietary fat, it’s the kind of fat we’re eating — rather than the amount alone — that’s been deemed most important for health outcomes. As a result, “calories from fat” will drop off the new labels, while counts for total fat, saturated, and trans fats will remain. (We now know that while trans fats are linked to obesity and heart disease, other fats, like saturated fats and those that comes from nuts and seeds, are actually healthful and can help lower cholesterol Comparison of effects of soft margarine, blended, ghee, and unhydrogenated oil with hydrogenated oil on serum lipids: A randomized clinical trail.Mohammadifard N, Hosseini M, Sajjadi, et al. ARYA Atherosclerosis. 2013 Nov;9(6):363-71..)
3. Calorie counts go big. Get ready for sticker shock, America! Calories on labels will be bigger, bolder, and hard to miss. Will this have any real effect on the target audience? One study showed that reading nutritional labels is linked to successful obesity prevention, and that consumers who read food labels have lower BMIs than those who don’t. Perhaps making labels easier to understand will make them more accessible and likely to be read, which will in turn have a positive impact on obesity and public health.
4. Serving sizes get served. Did you know that some products sold as single portions actually contain multiple servings? For example, a “single serve bag” of Fritos actually contains almost three servings. But not for long. The new serving sizes listed on the revised labels will reflect the portions that we actually eat and won’t require any fancy division skills. For example, 12-ounce and 20-ounce sodas would be considered one serving with clear calorie counts for each. The same will hold for chips, ice cream, and muffins. “The fact that serving sizes will be more like what a person would eat is a positive thing,” says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., assistant professor for sports nutrition at the University of Georgia in Athens.
If you'd like to let the FDA know what you think of the proposed changes, you have until June 2, 2014 to submit your comments.
Will it be easier to make healthy food choices with the FDA's proposed label changes? Share in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Twitter @greatist.