In 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved major changes to the Nutrition Facts label which manufacturers are required to put on packaged food. This is the first substantial revision since the label was introduced in 1994. The updated Nutrition Facts Panel is easier for consumers to understand and use, and provides critical information that consumers need to make healthy food choices. Changes to the label include a line for added sugars, larger display of calorie content, more accurate serving sizes, and listing of current nutrients of public health concern.
The original compliance date for the new label was July 2018, but in October 2017, the Trump administration proposed delaying the deadline until January 2020 for large companies and January 2021 for small companies. It responded to pressure from some processed food manufacturers, who claimed the new label was unfair and asked for more time to comply. However, many major food companies have already begun using the new label format and 8000 products already use the new label, showing that compliance is feasible and a delay is unnecessary. The FDA accepted comments on the proposed delay through November 1, 2017. Although a final decision will not be made until early 2018, as of December 2017, it seems that the FDA is likely to approve the delay.
Read Healthy Food America’s comments to the FDA opposing delayed implementation.
Once implemented, this long-awaited change will represent a real victory for consumers and our health. The redesigned label will provide people with valuable information about the nutrition content of packaged foods, which may help them make healthy choices.
Why is this important?
One of the most significant changes to the label will be how sugars are listed. Currently, consumers see only the total grams of sugar in a product, which represents both the naturally occurring sugars such as fructose in fruit or lactose in milk, as well as the added sugars. The new label, in contrast, will have a separate line for added sugars, so a consumer will be able to see just how much sugar is added to yogurt or fruit drinks, for example.
This is important because the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people limit added sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of total calories. Right now, consumers have no way of knowing how much added sugar is in food products, making it difficult to follow this recommendation.
The science is clear that added sugars are a key contributor to rising rates of diabetes, obesity, and liver, heart, and dental disease. And Americans are eating way too much added sugar: the typical American consumes more than 17 teaspoons per day, nearly 50 percent more than is recommended.
Added sugar is nearly impossible for Americans to avoid - three out of four packaged foods and beverages contain added sugars. With over 60 different names for added sugars [see box], consumers might not realize exactly how much is in that packaged food they’re reaching for. Even if consumers could recognize all the forms of added sugar listed in the ingredients, they could not possibly estimate the quantity of added sugars in a food.
Types of Added Sugars* found in Packaged Foods
- brown sugar
- confectioner's powdered sugar
- corn syrup, corn syrup solids
- dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, sucrose
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- nectars (e.g., peach or pear nectar)
- raw sugar
- white table (granulated) sugar
- and others
Check out Sugar Science for more information on added sugars in packaged foods.
*Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. They don’t include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruit.
The new label will also show what percentage of the recommended maximum daily value (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) the added sugars contribute, making it easier to keep added sugars under 10 percent of calories, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This helps consumers meet their nutrient needs, stay within a calorie limit, and avoid getting too many of those calories from added sugar.
Other changes to the label:
- Serving sizes will be updated to reflect how much people actually eat or drink, rather than the amount we should eat. A 20-oz. bottle of Coca-Cola, for example, will be identified as one serving, because people typically drink a whole bottle by themselves. By the way, a 20-oz. can of Coke contains a whopping 120 percent of the recommended daily maximum for added sugars.
- The number of calories in each serving will be in a bigger, bolder font.
- “Calories from fat” will be removed because nutrition science shows that the type of fat (i.e. saturated vs. unsaturated fats) is more important for health than the total amount of all fats consumed
- The list of nutrients will show the amount of Vitamin D and potassium in the product. because many Americans are not getting enough of these nutrients. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required to be listed, because Americans are rarely deficient in these.
While clearer labeling and more information will help, much more action is needed to reverse the tide of added sugars that have flowed into the American diet in recent decades, contributing to chronic, nutrition-related diseases. But this change to nutrition information is a critical early contribution.
For more information:
- This FDA document explains the updates in more detail, along with an easy to read graphic.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest has been leading efforts to oppose the delay of implementing the new nutrition facts label. You can follow their latest coverage on the topic here.
- Read Healthy Food America’s comments to the FDA opposing delaying implementation of new nutrition facts label