In May 2016, the FDA announced the Nutrition Facts Panel will get a makeover, the agency's first revisions to the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990 in more than 20 years. Most food and beverage processors will have to comply with the new rules for packaged foods by July 26, 2018. Companies with sales of less than $10 million a year have until 2019. Which means 2017 is the year to get the required label changes, and possibly formulation changes, under way.
For years, health advocates urged consumers to read the ingredients on package labels, and until recently, they largely ignored the advice. But with the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which made substantive changes in our understanding of sodium, saturated fats and added sugars, they're starting to get the message.
While the label size is the same as before, here are some key changes:
- A larger, bold font will prominently list calories and serving sizes to more accurately reflect the way people buy and eat food. There's no way to miss calorie counts.
- A single serving will be more realistic to reflect how much people currently eat at one time. Let's face it: People eat more now than they used to. A serving of ice cream, for example, will now be two-thirds of a cup, not half a cup; soft drinks will go from 8 to 12 oz. Yet in some cases, serving sizes may become smaller, as the new requirements reflect an average portion.
- A declaration in grams and percentages of daily value (percent DV) for "added sugars" will indicate how much sugar was added to the product. It should allow consumers to distinguish between sugars that occur inherently and sugar added during processing. The FDA says it's difficult to meet nutrient needs and stay within calorie limits if more than 10 percent of total daily calories come from added sugars.
- Some previously listed vitamins will be replaced with vitamins Americans need more of. The FDA will no longer require food companies to list amounts of vitamin A and C in products, as research shows Americans aren’t deficient in these nutrients. We need more vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium, so those nutrients must appear on the new labels. Manufacturers must declare the actual amount in addition to the percent DV. Choline was added as a voluntary nutrient with a DV of 550mg, whereas earlier it wasn't allowed on the panel at all.
- The "calories from fat" description is being removed both to provide more space for the calorie count and because scientific research shows it’s more important to eat certain types of healthy fat rather than to restrict all fat as a nutrient. "Total Fat," "Saturated Fat" and "Trans Fat" will continue to be required.
- The DVs on sodium and fiber have changed (the former, lower; the latter, higher) and there has been a significant increase in the DV for calcium, from 1,000 to 1,300mg. This can add to the challenges when fortifying some products with calcium phosphate, citrate or carbonate, where calcium is not delivered as a pure ingredient. Same with phosphorus and potassium.
- "Dual-column" labels can be used to indicate both "per-serving" and "per-package" calorie and nutrition information for certain multi-serving food products that might be consumed in one sitting, such as a pint of ice cream or a 3-oz. bag of chips. Dual-column labels will allow people to understand how many calories and nutrients they get if they eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.
The agency also is updating certain reference values used in the declaration of percent of daily values of some nutrients. The footnote table that lists the reference values for 2,000- and 2,500-calorie diets is gone. A streamlined footnote will read, "*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice."
The new label requires pre-approval for some fiber ingredients previously included in the dietary fiber calculation. The FDA last May redefined dietary fiber to naturally occurring fibers; all others will have to prove a physiological benefit. The agency also increased the DV of dietary fiber, which includes both soluble and insoluble fiber, from 25g to 28g.
As of presstime, the label for meat, poultry, eggs and other products regulated by the USDA is still being reworked to be in line with the FDA's changes – mostly updating the list of nutrients required or permitted to be declared and adjusting to the revised DVs and Reference Daily Intake (RDI) values.
Implementing the Nutrition Facts label changes could cost $500 million a year, the FDA estimates. However, the agency claims the changes will also provide about $2 billion annually in benefits such as reduced health costs over 20 years.