Now that 2020 is underway, the nutrition label has a long-awaited refreshment that nutrition experts hope will attract closer scrutiny from consumers. The updated label, which is required for food manufacturers with annual sales of more than $10 million, offers new information that should help you make informed decisions about what to eat for better health.
The largest public health problem facing the nation may be chronic disease resulting from poor nutrition and unwitting overconsumption. The hope is that the new label will present important nutrition facts in an easy to read format that enables food choices that reduce heart disease, obesity, and other conditions associated with Western diet.
The federal mandate for new nutrition labeling arrived in May of 2016; it gave companies two to three years to get the new nutrition label on packages. Due to push back from groups within the food industry like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and The American Bakers Association (ABA), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) extended the deadline from July 26, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2020 for large companies. Smaller manufacturers whose annual sales are not in excess of $10 million will have until Jan. 1, 2021 to comply.
(For an excellent and brief nutrition label timeline, read this post at Food Politics.)
Scientists hope that you will use the new label to make choices that are in sync with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which stresses healthy eating patterns.
Look for these changes to the labels:
- Grams of added sugar
- Larger, bolder type for serving size and calories
- Vitamin D and potassium
- Vitamins C and A no longer required
- Calories from fat no longer required
- Small packages shown as a single portion, instead of multiple servings
- Serving sizes closer to what people truly eat
GRAMS OF ADDED SUGAR: Current science recommends that no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar. Eating excess sugar makes it difficult to meet nutrient needs without piling on extra calories, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
TYPE/DESIGN CHANGES: The calories per serving, the serving size, and number of servings will be in a larger type. Boldface type for “calories” and “serving size” will appear front and center, so that you don’t miss this key information. (If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to read the label.)
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES: Americans don’t get enough vitamin D and potassium. 🍌
Finding foods that contain vitamin D can be challenging. Foods to choose include tuna fish, eggs, and fortified orange juice and milk. Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin D vary from 10 mcg (400 IU) for the very young to 20 mcg (800 IU) for the very old.🥛
Outdoor sun exposure can boost vitamin D levels, but if a sunscreen of SPF 8 or higher is worn, the rays that lead to the formation of the vitamin are filtered out. Estimates of needed sun time (without sunscreen) vary from 5 to 30 minutes. 🌞
Data from dietary surveys like the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reveals that most Americans are not taking in adequate potassium. Low potassium status is correlated with high blood pressure, stroke, and other conditions like poor bone health. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet focuses on fresh produce, so it is rich in potassium. It was rated third among diets by U.S. News & World Reports.
Nutrition experts (the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine set the Dietary Reference Intakes) have not set an RDA for potassium. They have established Adequate Intake (AI) levels based on age and sex ranging from 400 mg to 3400 mg.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER VITAMINS AND MINERALS?: Because Americans ingest enough of vitamins C and A, these are not required on the new labels. Manufacturers can list them if they wish. Large intakes of vitamin A can be toxic.
We still don’t get enough calcium and iron, minerals that fight osteoporosis and anemia.
Fiber is another under-eaten nutrient that benefits a variety of conditions. Here again, the DASH Diet serves up a treasure trove of fiber.
FAT FACTS: Calories from fat has been removed from the nutrition label.
It does show total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. That’s because science has found that the type of fat consumed is more important than how much goes into a body.
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are fine and good, but saturated and trans fats cause disease. Trans fat is especially damaging, even in very small amounts. It occurs naturally in cattle and other grazing animals and is used by industry in partially hydrogenated oils in some bakery products.
DAILY VALUE EXPLAINED: Labels must now offer consumers a brief summary of the daily value concept.
The idea behind %Daily Value (%DV) is that by stating how much of a nutrient is in a food, consumers will be able to decide if items offer too much or too little nutrition (or maybe, just the right amount.) A serving with less than 5% DV offers low nutrition and 20% or more DV is high.
The problem is that daily value is based on a generic daily intake of 2,000 calories. Americans come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, so 2,000 calories is not right-sized for everyone. Here is a Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern chart from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that shows amounts of food from the different groups for different calorie levels.
Keep in mind that muscles require more fuel than adipose tissue and that age, sex, and activity factor into daily calorie needs. You can use this online calculator to get a rough idea of your personal needs.
SIZE MATTERS WHEN IT COMES TO SERVINGS: The FDA has come face to face with the fact that when it comes to ice cream, no one (well, maybe toddlers) eats just half a cup. So, the serving size is now two-thirds of a cup. Of course, each serving weighs in at more calories.
The same is true of sodas. Serving size has increased from 8 to 12 ounces. If, however, a container is 20 ounces, the package must call it a single serving since people often consume smaller sized bottles in one sitting. This holds true for snacks, soup, and any other small packaged food item usually eaten all at once.
Calories per serving will be the same as calories per package or can. Some smallish packages that are not usually eaten all at once, such as 24-ounce bottles of soda, will sport dual labels with information for both a single serving and the entire package.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The intent behind the updated nutrition label is to offer people enough knowledge to make healthy choices. Perhaps this will help in the quest to conquer the chronic disease in day-to-day existence, just as we have succeeded in radically lowering the amount of infectious disease in daily life.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stressed the need for shifts toward healthy eating patterns as a normal facet of daily life. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines are scheduled to be released before the end of the year. Maybe the updated nutrition labels will provide consumers with the knowledge to act on the previous advice while awaiting the new recommendations.
Copyright © 2019 Jani Hall Leuschel
Thanks, Jani, for the extremely helpful article on reading food labels! Valuable not just to those wanting to eat a healthier diet but also to those of us with allergies and other chronic conditions.
Would you consider a future post(s) regarding food strategies for these populations, e.g, food/groceries strategices that are especially nutritious for seniors, diabetics, etc?
My children have food allergies, so I understand the importance of that list of ingredients on the label. Nutrition facts are important, but an allergic reaction can be fatal for some people!
I will start to put together a post or two on allergies. You are right in thinking it is a very broad topic, so it warrants more than one attempt. Just FYI: I did a quick PubMed search for seniors and allergies and found an interesting study on eating yogurt. A little less than a cup of yogurt eaten every day strengthens the immune system and may keep you from overreacting to allergens, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10395628.
(You may already be aware of the yogurt-immunity connection, as the study was done in 1999 and it has received plenty of media coverage.)
Thanks for your comment and suggestion. Stay posted! Jani