Food Labels Get a Makeover

Food Labels Get a Makeover

By Gretchen Schisla

There’s big news in the packaged food industry – for the first time in 20 years the nutrition labels on food products are changing to help consumers make well-informed choices.

This breakthrough move from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is a reflection of new scientific information that links our diets to chronic diseases, such as obesity and heart disease. According to the regulatory organization, food labels are to “be replaced with the explicit purpose of improving people’s health.” But helping consumers understand serving size, calories and ingredients on a label and how each of these impacts us can be tricky. 

Let’s take a look at the changes:

 

Added sugars will be clearly called out.
Labels will now highlight added sugars, those caloric sweeteners with no nutritional value that are added to make products taste better. Current labels don’t distinguish between natural sugars, which may be found in fruit for example, from what’s being added by food manufacturers. The FDA notes that 13 percent of our total daily calories comes from added sugars, which are present in everything from pasta sauce to cereal.

The calorie count is larger and easier to find.
Calories will now be highlighted in large letters. The FDA says this change is meant to make people more aware of a product’s calorie count per serving and to help address the country’s obesity epidemic. Serving sizes and the number of servings per container are also bold and more prominent.

Serving sizes will now reflect the portions we actually eat.
Single servings will more accurately reflect the portion sizes we’re used to, rather than only a few chips or crackers which may be unrealistic. For example, convenience packages that contain between 1 to 2 servings of a food item will be required to be labeled as 1 serving, with the full calorie count for the entire package provided because people often consume them all at one time.

‘Calories from fat’ will be gone.
Research has shown that it’s more important to eat certain types of healthy fats than to simply restrict fat as a nutrient. While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” is being removed.

The vitamins we actually need will be listed.
According to the FDA, some people can be deficient in Vitamin D and Potassium which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease, so these vitamins will be required on the label. Gram amounts will be shown, as well as a percentage daily allowance. Because deficiencies in Vitamin A and C are rare, they won’t be required in the new label format.

How will the food industry be impacted? Food manufacturers with annual product sales of over $10 million have until July 2018 to make these changes. Companies with under $10 million in product sales will be given until 2019 to comply. 

The biggest costs associated with the changes will come from product reformulations, where food scientists will have to re-balance physical properties with the right ingredients. “Those changes could end up costing the industry many millions. While reducing things like added sugars may sound simple, it actually requires a time-consuming and complex science,” says Ariana Eunjung Cha, in an article for the Washington Post.

These changes, while they will pose some challenges for the manufacturers, are a critical step in addressing the growing obesity problem.