In 2014, Michelle Obama and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed updates to the nutrition facts label as a part of her Let’s Move! Initiative. This effort was rooted in her desire to provide parents and families with the information they need to make healthier choices.1 Prior to this proposition, the nutrition facts label was only significantly revised once since its release. The initial update occurred in 1999 and required the inclusion of trans fats to the nutrition facts label because trans fats were found to increase serum LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.2 The addition of trans fats to the nutrition label nudged companies to either reduce or fully eliminate trans fats from their products.
Latest Updates to the Nutrition Facts Label
Fast forward to 2020, and the efforts made by Michelle Obama and the FDA finally came to fruition. Some of the updates to the nutrition facts label are as follows1,3:
- Require information about the amount of “added sugars” in a food product. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it was determined that the calories ingested from added sugar is too high in the U.S. population and should be reduced. The FDA proposed to include “added sugars” on the label to help consumers know how much sugar has been added to the product.
- Update serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people currently eat. What and how much people eat and drink have changed since the serving sizes were first put into place in 1994. By law, serving sizes must be based on the portion consumers actually eat rather than the amount they “should” be eating.
- Present calorie and nutrition information for the whole package of certain food products that could be consumed in one sitting or in multiple sittings.
- Refresh the format to emphasize certain elements, such as calories, serving sizes and percent daily value, which are important in addressing current public health problems like obesity and heart disease.
- Declare the actual amount, in addition to percent daily value, of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. Manufacturers can voluntarily declare the gram amount for other vitamins and minerals.
- Remove “Calories from Fat” because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
Theses updates are intended to reflect the latest scientific information about the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. These changes already appear on some packages, but most manufacturers are required to make these changes now.
Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales were required to switch to the new label by January 1, 2020; manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until January 1, 2021, to comply.3 Manufacturers of most single-ingredient sugars such as honey, maple syrup and certain cranberry products have until July 1, 2021, to make the changes. However, manufacturers of certain flavored dried cranberries had to make the changes by July 1, 2020.
The changes to the nutrition facts label are essential for consumers to make well-informed decisions about what they eat and drink. However, there is still room for improvement. For one, there should be a percent daily value for the total amount of sugar a product contains and not just the amount of sugar added to a product. This information is important because an average person does not know how much sugar intake in a day is too much.
All in all, these updates are moving towards making it easier for consumers to make a healthy choice. With more information about what each food item contains, consumers are empowered to make healthier and well-informed choices about what they consume.
BONUS: Tips for Reading a Nutrition Facts Label
Reading a nutrition label can be confusing at times so here are some tips on how to navigate the nutrition facts label.
- Look at the percent daily value. If it says 5 percent or less, the food is “low” in the nutrient. If it says 20 percent or more, the food is “high” in the nutrient. Generally speaking, we want to choose foods low (5 percent or less of the daily value) in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.4
- Ask yourself, “How many servings am I consuming?” For example, if the serving size is ½ cup and you eat 1 cup, you are doubling the serving and, therefore, must double the calories, fat and everything else listed on the nutrition label.5 The amount of servings you ingest dictates the number of calories you consume. Your caloric needs may differ based on your sex, age, and level of physical activity, etc. The FDA created a document that you can use to find out more about your recommended daily caloric intake.
- Try to consume more dietary fiber, various vitamins, calcium, iron and potassium in your diet.6 Americans often don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium in their diets. These nutrients are essential for keeping you feeling strong and healthy.4
- Try to consume less saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars.6 Eating too much total fat (especially saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers.4
Queen-Ivie Egiebor, MPH
Queen-Ivie Egiebor completed her undergraduate education in Biochemistry with a minor in Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). She then received her Master of Public Health degree at Loma Linda University (LLU). Currently, she is pursuing a dual degree: an MD from UCR and a DrPH in Health Policy and Leadership from LLU.