FDA’s New Proposed ‘Nutrition Facts’ Will Change the Way We Look at Food

March 7, 2014


On Thursday, February 27, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiated a comment and rulemaking process to overhaul the Nutrition Facts Panel, the nutrition and ingredient label required on most packaged foods and beverages. The proposed changes are 10 years in the making, beginning in 2003 in response to the Obesity Working Group’s directive to “develop an approach for enhancing and improving the food label to assist consumers in preventing weight gain and reducing obesity”.

The FDA’s recommendations are significant, revamping both the content and design of the current label. By the time the rulemaking process is completed, likely 3-5 years from now, food and beverage manufacturers will have spent billions of dollars redesigning packages and reformulating products. A diverse group of stakeholders will be actively engaged throughout, working to impact the final rules. This issue is of major importance to industry, the FDA, the Obama administration, public health organizations, dietitians and health professionals, consumer activist groups, and the public. Expect each of these groups to be vocal and influential.

Several proposed changes, particularly added sugars labeling, would generate much debate and potentially congressional intervention over the next couple of years. While the purpose of the new label is ostensibly to help consumers make more informed purchasing and eating decisions, another primary objective of FDA’s is to compel manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their products. Stay tuned for an eventful few years in nutrition policy.

Key Proposed Changes:

1)     Mandatory “Added Sugars” Labeling

  • At present, only total sugars (sugars naturally occurring in foods plus sugars added during processing) are required on the label. FDA now proposes to add a line denoting “added sugars”.
  • This is controversial for three reasons: 1) Foods containing added sugars do not contribute to weight gain, obesity or disease any more than other calorie sources; 2) Manufacturers will have to submit proprietary formulation data to FDA in order for the agency to enforce compliance; and 3) consumers have limited understanding about added sugars and their effects on health.

2)     Serving Size Adjustments

  • Current serving sizes are based on outdated data that no longer reflect how much we typically eat. Consequently, FDA recommends that the serving size for particular foods, such as beverages, ice cream and frozen desserts, bagels and muffins change (increase) to reflect usual consumption.
  • Foods and beverages that can reasonably be consumed in one sitting would be labeled as such (think 20-ounce beverages), rather than 2 servings per bottle.

3)     Vitamins and Minerals

  • FDA proposes to add potassium and vitamin D to the list of required nutrients and make vitamin A and vitamin C optional labeling elements.
  • The Daily Values for several nutrients would change, including sodium (down to 2,300 milligrams/day), dietary fiber (up to 28 grams/day) and calcium (up to 1,300 milligrams/day).

4)     Foods for Infants and Young Children

  • Currently, the same set of Daily Values is ascribed to all children under four years of age. The proposed rules recommend separating recommendations for children 0-6 months, 7-12 months and 1-3 years.
  • Nutrients considered voluntary label elements under current regulations would be required in the new design.

You can review the new designs, as well as the proposed rules on the FDA website.