Nutrition Facts Label set for makeover

In a few years, you may be able to read a Nutrition Facts Label without squinting or doing math problems in your head, if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gets the go-ahead on a series of proposed changes.

FDA is suggesting putting pertinent facts like calories and the number of servings per package in bigger, bolder print and removing less useful information like how many calories in the food come from fat. These and other changes would bring the labels up-to-date with the latest scientific information about the links between diet and better health, according to FDA.

“Obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases are leading public health problems,” said Michael Landa, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The proposed new label is intended to bring attention to calories and serving sizes, which are important in addressing these problems.”

These would be the first significant changes in the 20-year-old labeling policy since 2006, when information about trans fats was added.

“Our guiding principle here is that you as a parent or 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,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, whose Let’s Move campaign was involved in the planned changes. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families across this country.”

Among the proposed changes:

  • Serving size information would better reflect how much of a food people actually eat, versus what they should be eating. For some foods—such as a small bag of nuts—that may be the entire package.
  • For the first time, labels would contain information about sugars added during processing. Americans average about 16 percent of their daily calories from added sugars, according to FDA.
  • Values for potassium and vitamin D—two nutrients often lacking in people’s diets—would appear, replacing two others—vitamins A and C—at the manufacturer’s discretion. The rationale: Potassium can help lower blood pressure, and vitamin D contributes to bone health.
  • Calories from fat would disappear, but values for total fat, saturated fat and trans fats would remain. Research has found it’s more valuable to know the type of fat than how many calories come from fat content.
  • The Daily Value for important items like sodium and dietary fiber would be revised to help consumers better understand the context of how these fit into a person’s overall daily diet.

The updated labels would appear on all packaged food, except some meat, poultry and processed egg products. Those items are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The FDA is accepting public comment for 90 days at www.regulations.gov. The food industry likely would be given two years to comply with any new rules.

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