Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month? As part of my current Dietetic Internship rotation, I’ve been tasked with writing weekly nutrition newsletters for the staff of Mary Manning Walsh nursing home (where my rotation is). There is also a weight loss challenge among the staff, called “The Biggest Loser”, and I’ve been asked to present a workshop to the participating staff on the Nutrition Facts Label. At first, I thought that this was a boring topic that has been rehashed time and again. However, the FDA proposed a new revamped nutrition label in the middle of last year, and I found the proposed changes to be very interesting. The Nutrition Facts label hasn’t been updated in about 20 years, and the FDA realizes that a change is necessary to accompany American’s changing eating habits. Manufacturers now have 2 years to implement these proposed changes. I’m going to tell you a little bit about the Nutrition Facts label now and what changes to expect.
- The first thing to look at on the Nutrition Facts label is serving size and the number of servings in the package.
- Serving sizes are standardized to compare similar foods; they are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., the number of grams.
- The serving size is the most confusing part of the current Nutrition Fact label. For instance, the serving size on a cereal box is usually ½ cup and most people eat about 2 cups of cereal at a time. In order to know how many calories and nutrients you are eating in 2 cups, you have to multiple everything by 4. Most people aren’t going to do that. The new serving size requirements will reflect the amount of food people are actually eating and drinking now as opposed to 20 years ago when the Nutrition Facts label was first introduced. So, the cereal box will most likely have a serving size of 1 or 2 cups.
- The calories on the Nutrition Facts label is based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
- Calories from fat means the percentage of fat that the food item contains. This sample food is almost 50% fat, which is a high fat food.
- Let’s be honest. Most people don’t understand the “calories from fat” part of the label. It also doesn’t make sense for foods that are high in good fat, such as nuts and fish. The new label will remove the “Calories from fat.” “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will still be required on the label.
- The calories will also be larger and more prominent on the label. Also, since the serving size will be adjusted to a more realistic level of intake, the calories will more accurately reflect the actual calorie intake without having to do any math.
The Nutrients & %DV:
- The nutrients listed first are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts, or even too much. Limit these Nutrients.
- Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar or sodium may increase the risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.
- Daily Values or DVs are the recommended amounts of nutrient intake.
- The % DV is the percentage of the recommended daily value of that nutrient.
- Note that Trans fat, Sugars and, Protein do not list a %DV on the Nutrition Facts label.
- The next set of nutrients are the ones that we should strive to eat. These nutrients can improve health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.
- Natural sugars versus added sugars is another topic of confusion for many consumers. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products contain natural sugars that are beneficial to health. However, foods like soda, energy and sports drinks, grain based desserts, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, dairy-based desserts and candy contain added sugar that is detrimental to health. The new label will require a line for “Added Sugars” so consumers can determine the amount of natural versus added sugar in a food.
- Once again, many people don’t know the recommended daily values of nutrients. For example, the recommended daily value of iron for women is 18mg. For Vitamin C, it’s 60 mg. To make this easier to understand, the new food label will list the actual amount, in addition to %DV, for all vitamins and minerals listed.
- The FDA determined that calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and iron should be mandatoryon the food label. While calcium and iron are already required on the label, vitamin D and potassium will be added.
- Current data suggests that Vitamin A and C deficiencies are very rare. For this reason, the inclusion of Vitamin A and Vitamin C on the new label will be optional.
My thoughts: I personally think the new proposed labels are a huge improvement. Updating the serving size to more realistic standards and including added sugar should make choosing healthier options easier for consumers. Now we just need an initiative to prompt more people to read the label!