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Nutrition label changes can help consumers
JACKSON -- Proposed changes to the nutrition facts label should make it easier for consumers to make decisions about the food they eat.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is updating the label for the first time since it appeared on packaged foods in 1993. The only major change made to the label in its 20-year history was the required addition of trans fats in 2006.
“The goal is to simplify the label for the consumer,” said Brent Fountain, an associate Extension professor in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion at Mississippi State University. “They want to emphasize the information people need the most in relation to current health issues.”
The iconic label design will not change, but some elements of the label will be revamped to reflect the findings of new health and nutrition research.
The most notable proposed changes will modernize serving sizes, amend essential nutrients, include a line for added sugars, and refresh the label’s format. Serving sizes will be increased or decreased for some foods to reflect what people eat in a single sitting. By law, a serving size must reflect what people actually eat, not what they should eat, according to the FDA’s website.
“A lot of foods that are packaged as multiple-serving foods are consumed as a single serving, such as a 20-ounce soft drink,” Fountain said. “With the proposed changes, a 20-ounce soft drink, which currently is labeled as two and half servings, would be labeled as one serving. The number of calories and other nutritional values would increase as a result.”
The FDA recommends that vitamin D and potassium be added to the declared essential nutrients on packaging because some populations do not get enough of them. Vitamin D and potassium are essential for bone and heart health, respectively. Calcium and iron values are also label requirements. Vitamins A and C can be removed from or voluntarily reported on the label, the FDA website said.
Companies also may be required to distinguish between natural sugars and added sugars by stating the amount of added sugar.
“The addition of this information will be quite helpful for those who need to pay attention to carbohydrates,” Fountain said. “Typically, if you look at the fiber and sugar content, anything that has three or more grams of fiber and is low in sugar is a good choice. But some items with naturally occurring sugars, like dried fruits, can be good choices. Identifying naturally occurring sugars from added sugars will afford consumers the opportunity to make the best choices for themselves and their families.”
The label is intended as a guide to help people compare foods and make good choices. The link between nutrition, obesity and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, prompted many of the changes.
The revised label would make the calorie count font larger and directly associated with the serving size.
“We all have a misconception of serving sizes,” said Natasha Haynes, Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Rankin County. “Overeating is linked to many of the major health issues facing our society.”
Most consumers are concerned primarily with the calorie count and serving size of their foods. But those with particular health issues or concerns will need to look further than the number of calories, Haynes said.
“Health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, require people to monitor their intake of carbohydrates, fats and sodium,” she said. “The changes being proposed can help people who are in the grocery aisle trying to make a decision,” she said.
The FDA is requesting other changes be made to the label, including making percentage daily values easier to understand, revising the footnote and modifying daily values for sodium intake.
For more about the FDA’s proposed changes or to comment on the changes, go to the FDA’s website at http://1.usa.gov/RtSnlN. The comment period closes Aug. 1. After the approved changes are made, new labels will be required within two years.