food label

The Nutrition Facts label was recently updated by the Food and Drug Administration in an effort to help people eat right and shop more wisely.

The changes, announced in 2016, must appear on all food items by Jan. 1, 2021. Many manufacturers have already started using them.

The label changes can help consumers become more knowledgeable and aware of the food they consume, leading to improved health care outcomes and lower health care costs, said registered dietitian nutritionist Nancy Farrell Allen. 

Among the improvements are bold print, making it easier to read, and a distinction between total sugars and added sugars. The nutrients required to be listed has been updated to reflect current health concerns, Farrell Allen said.

Vitamin A and vitamin C have been replaced with vitamin D and potassium. Vitamins A and C are no longer required since deficiencies of these vitamins are rare today. Vitamin D is important for osteoporosis prevention, and potassium is a mineral that many kidney patients need to monitor, Farrell Allen said.

Serving sizes have been updated, too. They're now in larger and/or bolder print and better reflect the amount people typically eat or drink, according to the FDA.

"Personally, I believe the benefit of this change has yet to be determined. The serving sizes are now based on the amount of food eaten in one serving, and not what recommendations suggest they should be eating," said Farrell Allen, who visits the grocery store with patients to educate them on food labels. 

"This one aspect of the new food label has created more confusion for my patients. Many patients see it as a green light to eat more. Seeking the help of a registered nutritionist dietitian is one sure way to help provide clarity for consumers," she said.

Calories are also listed bigger and bolder. 

"I think what is more important is that people understand that a calorie conscious meal is typically 300 to 500 calories, snacks no more than 100 to 200 calories. This helps consumers to plan their meal pattern for a day," Farrell Allen said.

Calories from fat are no longer listed. 

"Research suggests that it is the type of fat we consume that is most important, and not the amount of fat," she said.

Added sugars, another new addition, represents the amount of additional sugar used in food preparation and processing. 

"Consuming more than 10% of total daily calories from added sugar may make it difficult to meet nutrient needs," Farrell Allen said. "Added sugars can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Sugars that are found naturally in grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables have proven to provide more health benefits and lower risk of disease." 

Dietary fiber is an important component of nutritional health; the FDA's Daily Value for dietary fiber is 28 grams. 

"It aids in weight management [and] gastrointestinal health and decreases the risk of diabetes, some cancers and heart disease," Farrell Allen said. "Select foods with at least 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving." 

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