What’s New on Product Labels? Here’s a Detailed Guide

When you buy a packaged food or nutritional product, chances are you’ve studied, or at least peeked at, the label on the back. Whether you’re interested in reviewing the calorie content, the breakdown of macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein), or the vitamin and mineral contribution of a packaged food, the Nutrition or Supplement Facts panel that houses that information is legally required to be plainly displayed—helping you make informed choices about the products you choose to consume.

What’s new with the FDA?

To help guide you in making these more informed decisions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has implemented new requirements for the Nutrition and Supplement Facts panels—set to go into effect on January 1, 2020. The Nutrition Facts panel has not been updated in over 20 years, so changes like these are bound to happen as researchers learn more about the link between diet and health and as input from the public evolves.1

Let’s review what’s changing:

Label format
While the Supplement Facts panel will remain relatively unchanged, foods and food products will carry an updated Nutrition Facts panel as pictured below.1

Rationale for these changes and other nutrient changes are summarized below.1

Now required No longer required
Vitamin D and potassium
Based on nationwide surveys, Americans don’t always get enough of these two nutrients from their diet, and deficiencies are associated with increased risk of chronic disease.
Vitamins A and C
Because deficiencies of these nutrients are rare in the general population today, they are no longer required.
Added sugars
This includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or packaged as such (e.g., a bag of table sugar). It also includes sugars from syrups, honey, concentrated fruit, or vegetable juices.
Calories from fat
It is now known that the type of fat (e.g., olive oil versus margarine) is more important than the amount of fat consumed.

Daily values
Daily values “are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the percent Daily Value (% DV)” based on the generally recommended 2,000-calorie diet.1 For example the new daily value for fat increased from 65 grams per day for the average adult to 78 grams per day.1 So if a label shows the %DV for fat to be 30%, that indicates that one serving of that food provides 30% of the recommended 78 gram maximum of fat intake for a day. However, this is just guidance for the average person. Talk to your healthcare practitioner about what breakdown of nutrients is appropriate for you. The daily value of numerous nutrients will also be updated with the new facts panel requirements.1

Nutrients with increased daily values Calcium, dietary fiber, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, total fat, vitamin C, and vitamin K
Nutrients with decreased daily values Biotin, chloride, chromium, copper, molybdenum, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, selenium, sodium, thiamin, total carbs, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and zinc

Serving sizes
Serving sizes are now based on amounts that people typically eat or drink—not the amounts that should be consumed for ideal health.1 Further, the average amount of food and drink people in the US ingest has changed since the previous serving size requirements were established in 1993.

For example, one serving size of yogurt is now 6 ounces (about the size of a typical single-serve container) instead of 8 ounces to reflect the amount Americans usually consume in one sitting.

Measurement of certain nutrients
International units (IU) will no longer be used as the primary unit of measure for vitamins A, D, and E.

Based on updated FDA label guidelines:1

  • Vitamin A will now be declared in micrograms (mcg) retinol activity equivalents (RAE).
  • Vitamin D will be declared in mcg (note: IUs may still be declared in addition to mcg).
    • For example: Vitamin D 75 mcg (3,000 IU)
  • Vitamin E will be declared in mg.
  • Folate and folic acid will be declared in mcg dietary folate equivalents (DFE) instead of mcg.
    • For example, folic acid would have previously been listed as 800 mcg folic acid, and now it will be listed as “Folic acid 1,360 mcg DFE (800 mcg folic acid)”

Fiber changes
One interesting change of the new labeling requirements regards the Dietary Fiber line of the label. When most people think of dietary fibers, they think of foods that help them stay “regular,” such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal, etc. With the release of the updated labeling guidelines, the FDA also defined what constitutes a dietary fiber for the very first time. Previously, both naturally occurring fibers (like the ones listed above) and fibers added to foods could be claimed as Dietary Fiber on the label, but the new definition of dietary fibers limits what is legally able to be claimed as a fiber.

So what is the FDA’s official definition of dietary fiber? What does this change mean for you when looking at a label? And what does this mean for fibers that are no longer considered, well, fibers?

Stay tuned for the answer to these questions in part two of this series!

References:

  1. Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. FDA.gov. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label. Accessed November, 20, 2019.

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