Photo source: www.fda.gov
Did you hear the news? In May the FDA finalized the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods!
Why should you care? Several changes have been made that now make it even easier for us to eat healthier.
I am not in the habit of talking about labels on food packaging. In fact, most the foods I eat don't even come in a package; they're mostly covered in dirt lately. But there are some foods that just make more sense to buy premade, such as almond butter or coconut cream.
When buying these items, I always look at the nutrition label to see what I am really getting. First, I look to see what and how many ingredients are in it; and then, how much sugar, protein and fiber it contains. (I recently wrote about a neat trick to help determine the health value of a food using the nutrition label called the Altman Rule using these facts. Great to know when you are trying to choose between several brands... I guess I really do talk about labels!)
Back to the new FDA guidelines that are making it even easier to make healthy choices. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Nutrition Facts label is not dictating what we should eat, but is designed to provide information that can help consumers make informed choices about the food they purchase and consume.
The recent label changes reflect the new scientific findings that have emerged over the last 20 years since the nutrition label guidelines were first formulated, specifically the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Not surprisingly these changes support much of what I tell clients about the importance of limiting the amount of sugar and unhealthy fats in their diet.
So, let’s take a look at what the recent label changes are and what they mean to us.
Photo Source: www.fda.gov
1. Easier to Read
This is a big help to those of us with aging eyes (even if we are taking good care of them with a healthy diet rich in beta-carotene and lutein!) The printed type for “Calories” and “Serving Size” is now larger and in bold to help it stand out.
2. Updated Serving Sizes
The amount people eat and drink in a single sitting has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. The new label must now list serving sizeds based on the amount people are actually eating. For example, a typical serving size for ice cream that used to be ½ cup, is now 2/3 cup. A serving size of soda is now 12 oz. instead of 8.
By the way, this doesn't mean these are the required amounts we should be eating. You don't have to eat 2/3 cup of ice cream if you don't need it! It is just a way to accurately reflect the serving size people are accustomed to eating and make them more aware of the actual calories and nutrients they are consuming. No more guessing.
In addition, if a food is packaged in a quantity between one and two servings, it will now have to be labeled as one serving size, because people will typically consume it in one sitting. This will more accurately reflect the actual calories and nutrients the user is actually consuming! No more guessing!
3. Identifying “Added” Sugars
This is a biggie!
“Added sugars” is now a separate line item, separating it from natural sugars that can be found in some ingredients such as dairy or fruit. This includes the amount in grams as well as a percent Daily Value. The daily recommended limit of added sugar is 50 grams.
Added sugars are defined as sugars that are either "added during the processing of foods…and include sugars, sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices."
Why this change?
Based on current scientific findings, the new label recommendations support the reduction of calories from added sugars. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization also recommend decreasing the intake of added sugars.”
Knowing how bad sugar is for our health, the new added sugar labeling is one step towards reducing sugar consumption in the American diet.
It is estimated that the average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s way more than the FDA recommended 6-9 teaspoons. At 50 grams (about 12 ½ teaspoons,) the new daily value for added sugar is less than half that amount. That’s a lot of sugar to cut out, and quite frankly, still more than we need!
While sugar does give us energy, added sugars are “empty” calories devoid of other nutrition. It is quick short term energy that leaves us feeling sluggish, moody and unable to think clearly. Our body functions better with long sustained energy sources that foods high in protein and fiber provide. By contrast a diet high in sugar is an inconsistent energy source, creating a roller coaster of energy highs and lows that, over time, can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The FDA estimates that on average, Americans get about 13% of their total calories from added sugars. Some of the worst offenders of added sugars are found in sugary beverages (such as sodas, fruit drinks, sport and energy drinks, coffee and tea, and alcoholic beverages,) snacks and sweets.
4. Support of healthy fats
While the new label will still list total fats, saturated fats, and transfats, calories will no longer be listed.
This supports findings that the quality of a fat is more important than the amount.
5. Addition of Vitamin D and potassium
Vitamin D and potassium, two important nutrients, are now required to be listed on the label.
Vitamin D is needed for bone health and not many American are getting enough. Same is true for potassium, which plays an important role in regulating blood pressure and muscle contraction.
In addition, all daily values will be updated to reflect the most recent science. (Yay, the daily intake for fiber was increased!)
That’s it in a nutshell!
If you would like more detailed information, you can read the May 20, 2016 report from the FDA.
I hope this helps you make more informed decisions about the food you eat. As always, if you have any questions or would like further support, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Yours in Health,