Changes coming for Nutrition Facts labels on food products: emphasis on calories, added sugar and serving size

Associated Press

By Danielle Ray
Kentucky Health News

Nutrition labels on food products will undergo a facelift over the next two years.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized plans Friday to change labeling to emphasize calorie count and added sugars in an effort to simply nutrition labels and clarify serving sizes.

First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime crusader against childhood obesity, said parents will benefit from the upcoming changes.

“You will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids,” she told The Associated Press.

The overhaul puts less emphasis on fats and more on caloric value and added sugars. Calories on upcoming labels will be listed in larger font than other nutrient facts. Added sugar will get its own line, separate from naturally occurring sugar.  Currently, both added and naturally occurring sugars were lumped under one category, “Sugars.”

New labels will also include a new “percent daily value” for added sugar, which will tell consumers how much of their recommended daily intake they will get from a given item. The FDA recommends consuming less than 10 percent of total daily calories (200 calories in a typical diet) from added sugar.

“The new labels should also spur food manufacturers to add less sugar to their products,” Michael Jacobson, president of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told AP. He said that under current labeling, it’s nearly impossible for consumers to know how much sugar fits into a reasonable diet.

The footnote will better explain what “percent daily value” means. It will read: “The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”

Serving sizes will also be clearer. The biggest difference will be that serving sizes will be based on what consumers typically eat instead of what they should eat. About one-fifth of foods will undergo revised calculations. For example, a serving size of ice cream will be 2/3 of a cup; previously it was a 1/2 cup.

If you’ve ever been duped into consuming more calories than you intended, or tried to calculate exactly what fraction of a slice of pizza constitutes a serving size, you’re in luck. Package size affects what people eat, the FDA noted. So, products that were previously between one and two servings, such as a 20-ounce soda, will be labeled as a single serving, since consumers generally eat or drink the entire contents in one sitting.

Larger containers, like pints of ice cream, will have dual column labels: one column with information for a single serving and the other with information for the entire container.

Labels will also include two additional nutrients: potassium and Vitamin D.

Industry reaction was predictable. A representative for the Sugar Association told AP that emphasis on added sugar could confuse consumers, but other industry leaders welcomed the changes.

“This update is timely as diets, eating patterns and consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts panel was first introduced,” Leon Bruner, of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told AP.

Most food manufacturers have until July 2018 to comply. Smaller manufacturers will have an additional year.

The FDA proposed the changes two years ago. They are the first major update to nutrition labels since labeling was introduced in 1994. So far, more than 800,000 foods have nutrition labels.

For more information on the changes, click here.

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