Posted by Barbara Ruhs, M.S., R.D.N. on Nov 11, 2016

This post is written by Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN and is not intended as legal or medical advice. The article is for information purposes only. 

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The Nutrition Facts label is a tool that consumers can use to obtain valuable nutrition information to make informed and healthier food choices. Since its introduction in 1990, the Nutrition Facts label has not been updated to reflect current nutrition science until now. In the past 20 years, a lot of things have changed, including the types and amount of foods consumed in one sitting.

Reflecting the most current scientific information between diet and chronic disease and the latest 2015 release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the new Nutrition Facts label is intended to help consumers evaluate the nutritional quality of food choices.

Key changes appear as updated serving sizes and Daily Values, revised units of measure and nutrients of concern consistent with IOM recommendations, and a change in focus away from dietary fat and a greater emphasis and awareness on (added) sugar.

Food manufacturers have until July 26, 2018 to be in compliance with the latest updates released on May 20, 2016 required for the Nutrition Facts label. In lieu of reading more than 1,000 pages of the Federal Register on this topic, let us summarize some of the key changes that will impact the food industry.

Updated Serving Sizes

One of the most noteworthy changes to the label is the use of updated serving sizes. Since 1993 (the last time serving size data was published), the amount of food and beverages consumed at one sitting has changed.

In most cases, the changes to the serving sizes have been increased. For example, a serving of avocado has been increased from one-fifth to one-third of a medium avocado. A serving of soda has increased from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.

To read the final rule, visit: Food Labeling: Serving Sizes of Foods That Can Reasonably Be Consumed At One Eating Occasion; Dual-Column Labeling; Updating, Modifying, and Establishing Certain Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed; Serving Size for Breath Mints; and Technical Amendments.

Another key change that may help consumers curb over consumption, is a greater emphasis on the number of servings contained in the package. The placement of the total number of servings per container is now listed above the serving size on the new label and is in larger, bolder font.

In addition to the nutrition facts being listed per serving, a dual-column that lists “per package” nutrition facts will also be required for products that contain multiple servings. For example, a person may consume an entire bag of potato chips or a 24-oz bottled drink in one sitting, however, the new label format will provide individuals nutrition information based on the recommended intake customarily consumed (RACC) per serving and for the entire package.

The New Label Reflects Nutrition Science

Nutrition science continues to evolve and dietary recommendations are updated with each new edition of the Dietary Guidelines. Similarly, the new food label reflects much of the latest evidence, notably the addition of a Daily Value (DV) for added sugars, changes to the nutrients of concern, as well as updated DVs based on current recommended intake for adults and children aged four years and older. Actual amounts of nutrients will now appear alongside the percent of the DV for all nutrients listed on the label.

The spotlight has been taken off fat and re-directed at sugar. The new label will no longer require “total calories from fat” because research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount (also reflected in a slightly increased DV for total fat). For the first time ever, “added sugars” (in grams) along with a percent DV (based on 50 grams or 10% of the total calories) for added sugars will appear in the latest rendition of the food label.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-10 (NHANES), indicates that Americans consume 13% of calories from sugar, making it difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits. Several health organizations, including the Institute of Medicine, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization support this labeling change and recommend decreasing intake of added sugars. To learn more about how the FDA defines “added sugars,” please consult page 33980 of the Nutrition Facts Label Final Rule.

Nutrients of concern listed on the new label have changed since the intake levels of both Vitamin A and C are currently adequate in the U.S. diet. Vitamin D and potassium have proven to be of an even greater concern and have the potential to impact chronic disease rates and will replace Vitamin A and C on the new label. Iron and calcium will remain on the new label as intake levels are still inadequate in the diet.

In addition, the Daily Value for calcium has been increased from 1,000 mg up to 1,300 mg and reflects the current IOM recommendations to support adequate intakes required to maintain bone health. The new label will require manufacturers to declare the actual amount, in addition to the percent Daily Value for all of the nutrients of concern listed. It is voluntary to list the gram amount for other vitamins and minerals.

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Daily Values

Aside from sodium, most of the changes in the quantities of Daily Values have increased, including fat, dietary fiber, calcium and potassium, as seen in the accompanying table. In addition, the units of measures for Vitamin A, D and E have changed to be consistent with the new Dietary Reference Intake reports and the form of nutrient that is most bioavailable in the body. Vitamin A will now be listed in Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE). Vitamin E will be listed in milligrams of alpha tocopherol and folate and folic acid units will now be labeled as Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE). Vitamin D which used to be voluntary on the nutrition label is now required and will be listed in micrograms instead of International Units (IU).

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Food Labeling Claims

Inevitably, changes to the Nutrition Facts label will impact manufacturers’ ability to make nutrient content claims; however, the FDA has not released final rules to-date to guide industry. Manufacturers are advised to reassess all products with nutrient content claims to ensure claims are still valid with updated serving sizes. 

In addition, on September 27, 2016, FDA opened a new public comment period to redefine “healthy,” in part of their overall plan to help consumers make healthier choices and to encourage industry to develop healthier products. In terms of labeling “healthy,” food manufacturers can continue to use the term on foods that meet the current regulatory definition, despite the new changes to nutrients of concern and the increase in the DV for fat on the new label.

66% of shoppers seek product claims to avoid negative ingredients and are seeking products with less sodium and added sugar and better nutritional options that boost intake of fiber, potassium, vitamin D and calcium.

- 2016 Food Marketing Institute report on U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends

Food manufacturers have an opportunity to take action and improve the health profile of their products and ensure the success of the new label changes. This requires an investment in consumer education to reduce confusion and ensure that the new label changes work to guide healthier choices and support better nutritional decisions now and into the future.

To learn more about the 2016 changes to the Nutrition Facts Label, schedule a consultation with our Regulatory and Science Affairs experts:

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Recommended Reading:

To read the full text of the new food label regulations, including details on record-keeping rules and guidelines on rounding for serving sizes and declaring nutrients (Please see 21 CFR 101.9(c)(8)(iv)).

About the author:

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Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN
Food and Nutrition Spokesperson
Freelance Writer, Guest Speaker

Barbara Ruhs, M.S., R.D.N., is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition spokesperson specializing in food & health nutrition communications. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and business owner, who has run a successful private-practice/consulting business for nearly 2 decades. As a thought-leader and entrepreneur, her mission is to transform public health and consumer eating habits by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and promoted.

Barb launched the first annual Supermarket Dietitian Symposium in 2010 in partnership with Oldways, a non-profit organization committed to promoting health and nutrition. Drawing leaders from an emerging group of powerful food and nutrition influencers from U.S. and global supermarkets, this invite-only event is the most highly regarded retail food and health industry event of its kind. She has been instrumental in helping other stakeholders launch networking events to empower and educate retail dietitians.

As a freelance nutrition writer, Barb shares her perspectives on nutrition, health trends and retail food. Her writing has been published in Consumer Reports, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Todays Dietitian Magazine and several food and industry blogs. She was the RD face and voice of the “All’s Wellness” column for Progressive Grocer magazine and shared her perspectives and expertise for 3 years.

A native of New York, Barb spent the majority of her career on the east coast prior to moving to Arizona in 2008. She started her career in public health working for USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs in Boston. She worked as a nutritionist for Harvard University and ran a successful private-practice with a team of dietitians based in Cambridge, MA.

Barbara graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics and M.S. in Nutrition from Boston University. A former collegiate tennis player, she enjoys an active lifestyle. She’s played in the 2013 US Tennis Association National’s in Indian Wells, CA and competes regularly in tournaments throughout the Valley. She’s an avid cyclist, animal-lover, verified “foodie” and world traveler.                                                                                                     

Areas of Interest/Expertise: Food/health/nutrition/diet trends; retail health & wellness; food/health product innovation; supermarket dietitian outreach; nutrition labeling; food biotechnology; aquaculture/farm-raised fish; sports nutrition. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook @BarbRuhsRD