Eat Well to Be Well: Is it time to redesign the Nutrition Facts Label?

The proposed Nutrition Facts label, right, will emphasize the number of calories and servings per container; update %DV and serving sizes; list added sugars; and require listing of potassium and vitamin D. Graphic by FDA.

If you’ve ever been in the habit of reading the Nutrition Facts label listed on most food packages, you may notice some changes to it in the near future. Required by the federal government since 1993, the Nutrition Facts label has been targeted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a proposed update. This update would reflect the latest scientific information, emphasizing the link between our diet and its impact on major public health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. The proposed changes would also be based on new dietary recommendations by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrient intake recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and intake data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The Nutrition Facts label purpose has always been to provide important nutrition information on food packages. But much has changed in how Americans eat over the years. We eat larger portions sizes than we used to resulting in more calories, which has contributed to the obesity epidemic. However, this is not always reflected on our food labels. For example, most serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts label for packages of ice cream say “one-half cup” but yet how many of us eat only one-half cup of ice cream at a sitting. The proposed changes on the Nutrition Facts label would also give it a more up-to-date design and content.

What changes are proposed?

  • More emphasis on calories and serving sizes. The calories would be listed in larger and bolder type, making them more noticeable and to bring awareness in their role in helping to maintain a healthy weight. The serving sizes would be more realistic to reflect amounts based on what people actually eat, not on what they “should” be eating.
  • The words “Added Sugars” would be included on the label. Americans have a “sweet tooth” with about 16 percent of our daily calories coming from sugar. This change will give consumers information on how much added sugar is in their food.
  • *The words “calories from fat” will no longer be on the label as research has shown that the type of fat is more important than the amount. Total fat, saturated fat and trans fat will still be required to be on the label.
  • Vitamin D and the mineral potassium will be required to be listed on the label. Some people are not getting enough of these nutrients, placing them at a higher risk for chronic diseases. Vitamin D is critical for healthy bones and potassium helps lower blood pressure.
  • Currently, vitamin A and C are listed on the Nutrition Facts label but they would no longer be required, even though food manufacturers could place them on voluntarily.
  • Various nutrients would have their Daily Values updated by the FDA. Daily Values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value (% DV) on the label, helping consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of the total diet. Currently, the % DV is listed on the right side of food labels but would be shifted to the left side to help consumers quickly see the nutrition information with the intent to make better choices.

How will changing the Nutrition Facts label help consumers?

The goal of the FDA’s proposed changes is to make you, as a consumer, more aware of what you are eating and to guide you in making healthier food choices to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases. No one is telling you what to eat but rather “this is the nutritional content of this food and you can decide if you want to eat this or not.” Therefore, if you have high blood pressure, look for foods with a higher amount of potassium and less sodium, or if you’re watching your weight, choose lower calorie foods.

As a consumer, you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your food choices. If there were no Nutrition Facts labels on food, we would all be clueless as to the nutritional content of what we were eating. Think of the Nutrition Facts label as a nutrition tool and use it to your ad-vantage. The information is literally at your fingertips but it’s up to you to take note of it, helping you make the healthiest food choices possible for your family.

The Nutrition Facts label is a useful nutrition tool but eventually all good things need some revision to make them even better. If you would like to be part of making your opinion known about the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label, the proposal is open to public comment for 90 days. To read more about the proposed changes and to comment, visit the FDA’s official docket at www.regulations.gov. Whatever changes are made, the FDA will allow the food industry two years to put the changes into effect.

This FDA consumer update also provides more information about the proposed label revisions.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

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