FDA proposes new food labels to emphasize sugar, sodium and calories

Ever felt like you needed a calculator and a medical textbook to understand the nutritional content of your food? Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed updating the Nutrition Facts label.

Changes to the label reflect new scientific understanding about the roles of fat, sugar and sodium in our daily diet, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

When the label was introduced 20 years ago, fat was the primary concern in the American diet, Hamburg said. Now scientists understand that the amount of fat is not as concerning as the type of fat. Trans fats are considered extremely unhealthy, but Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient, for example. Nutritionists are also more concerned about the amount of sugar and sodium in American diets.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 3.43.11 PMHamburg, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and First Lady Michelle Obama presented the new label today at the White House.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

If the changes are approved, here are some of the changes shoppers will see:
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  • Calorie information will be in larger print, making it easier to read.
  • Food labels will still show the amounts and types of fat in products, but “Calories from Fat” will be removed.
  • Products will now be required to list sugars added to their product. The new labels will show naturally occurring food sugars and added sugars.
  • Serving sizes will be based on how much food a person actually consumes in one sitting, on average. As a result, certain packages of food will now be labeled as a single serving, with the appropriate nutritional information. Dual column labels will indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages.
  • Vitamins A and C will no longer be required for food labels, but vitamin D and potassium information is now mandatory. Vitamin D plays a vital role in bone health and potassium lowers blood pressure; some American populations are lacking in these nutrients.
  • The FDA will be lowering the daily recommended intake for sodium, and revising the daily recommended values for dietary fiber and Vitamin D as well.