Nutrition Label Getting an Update

— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Cindy Nance

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990 gave the FDA the authority to require nutrition labeling on foods. The purpose of the NLEA was to help consumers make better choices for their health while shopping for food and to encourage manufacturers to make foods with a better nutrition profile. The FDA released the final regulations for the Nutrition Facts Label on January 6, 1993 and the rule became effective on May 8, 1994.

The Nutrition Facts Label has not changed since 1994, except to add trans fat to the list of required nutrients in 2006. Our Nutrition Facts Label is now 20 years old and it is indeed in need of an update to keep up with the way consumers read information, which has changed since the advent of the Internet and social media. The labels also need to be updated because the dietary guidelines and nutrition science have been evolving and the information on the label needs to address public health concerns and omit nutrients that are not insufficient.

Risks for chronic disease can be improved if consumers make better choices while shopping. The first proposed rule is titled, Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label, and it addresses design change. The design change is meant to make the labels easier to read plus it reflects a change in nutrition recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which have been published and updated three times since the first labeling law was enacted.

Added sugars are distinguished from naturally occurring sugars. This will hopefully end confusion on how much sugar was added to a package verses how much is naturally found in food.

Daily Values are updated for sodium, fiber, and Vitamin D to reflect current research and health guidelines. The revisions in daily values are based on recommendations published by the institute of Medicine and other reports such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Some daily value amounts, like saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium are meant to convey a maximum intake while others such as one for iron helps consumers meet a daily requirement. The FDA is also considering adding the actual amounts of these units in micrograms or milligrams as the label illustrates.

Potassium and Vitamin D are now required on the label because they are nutrients of concern, along with calcium and iron. Calcium and iron are currently listed on the label, and vitamin D and potassium are added because they play important roles in bone health and blood pressure, yet are often not consumed in adequate amounts. But vitamin A and C are only included on a voluntary basis because most people regularly consume adequate amounts of these nutrients.

Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat are required but calories from fat will be removed because the type of fat is more important than the total amount of fat. Choosing healthier types of fat helps decrease risk of heart disease.

Calories and serving sizes are more prominent to help address public health concerns today such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The percent of daily value will be more prominent to help consumers understand how a food fits into their total diet.

The second proposed rule is to update the serving size requirements along with the new labeling requirements for certain package sizes. Serving sizes by law must reflect the amount that people usually eat. Since people today generally eat larger portions than 20 years ago, the reference values for serving sizes will increase to make them more realistic.

For example, if there is a drink or package that is typically eaten in one setting, the label will reflect that. A perfect example illustrated by the FDA is a 20-ounce bottle of soda. Most people do consume that in one setting so the FDA’s proposed rule on serving sizes will require that bottle to show the calories as one serving.

Larger packages that could be consumed in one setting or multiple settings will have to provide dual column labels to indicate both per serving and per package calories and nutrient information.

Shared thoughts about Updating the nutrition facts label are that the new label will give consumers useful information in an easier to read format to help them make informed decisions about their food choices.

For more information contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP Assistant with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-592-7161.