2017 Nutrition Facts Label: Here’s What’s Changing (It’s A Lot!)
As scientific research has made a wealth of discoveries since the present label was implemented 20 years ago, our current Nutrition Facts labels fall woefully short on reliable recommendations for optimal health. So earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration announced an overhaul of the nutrition facts label on packaged foods. While it’s still not perfect, the newly revised one (which will begin rolling out in 2017) will enable consumers to make more healthful food choices, thanks to new features such as serving size adjustments and the addition of “added sugars.”
The changes also affect supplement labels. For example, those who take supplemental vitamin D or vitamin E are used to taking a particular dose in International Units (IUs). On the new labels, however, both of these nutrients are moving over to the metric system of mass, being measured in micrograms and milligrams, respectively.
Read on for a total run down of the changes and what you need to know.
Why Change the Nutrient Facts Label?
In recent decades, nutritional priorities have shifted, and research has found more links between diet and chronic disease. In addition, “serving sizes,” as they appear listed on the label, rarely reflect the average quantity of food consumed, so the new label is based on more realistic consumption habits. Manufacturers have two to three years to comply with the new labeling requirements. Here is a preview of the alterations to come.
The New Nutrition Facts Label: An Overview
Format and Layout: The new Nutrition Facts Label includes changes in font size, content and points of emphasis. The first thing you’ll notice is that the font is larger, which makes it easier to read. Calories are front and center in a much larger font, and “calories from fat” has been removed.
% Daily Value:
While the placement and format of Nutrient % Daily Value (DV) didn’t change, the RDIs for several nutrients have been updated, with some being adjusted upwards and others adjusted downwards. The reference intake increased for the following nutrients: fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin D, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese and total fat.
This of course affects %DV. Below is the full list of the most up to date RDIs for each nutrient, with the nutrients of interest highlighted. The National Institutes of Health has much larger charts, if need be.
NOTE: It’s important to remember that the RDI and DV are defined by a nutrient minimum, and reflect only the amount of a nutrient needed to avoid a life-threatening disease. They DO NOT represent the maximum. In many cases, much higher amounts contribute to significant health improvements and preventive measure. You can read more about that here.
Calcium and iron stay mandatory. Since potassium and vitamin D are sometimes lacking in the American diet, they are switched from voluntary to mandatory. Because deficiencies of vitamin A and vitamin C have become rare, they are changed from mandatory to voluntary. Choline is added as a new voluntary nutrient. Fluoride is also voluntary, but it becomes mandatory if a product claims to contain it.
One of the more important changes deals with sugar. The sugar listing on the old label is subdivided into total sugar and added sugar in the new label. This change is due to research that finds the high consumption of added sugar is tied to an increased intake of calories as well as a decreased intake of healthy food. It is also based on evidence linking a diet low in sugar to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Added sugar refers to sweeteners put in during manufacturing, and the sources include honey, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, lactose and concentrated fruit juice.
According to health oversight agencies, if a daily diet contains more than 10 percent added sugar, it’s difficult to obtain the FDA requirements for nutrients without consuming more than the advised daily caloric count.
Serving & Packaging Size
The size of servings are increased or decreased to reflect what people actually eat rather than what they should eat. This change will give the public a more accurate view of the caloric and nutrient content of what they’re consuming.
Packages of food or beverages containing between one to two servings are required to label the contents as one serving. This regulation was added because people usually consume such products in one sitting. For products that contain two to three servings, manufacturers must provide two-column labels, one with per serving information and the other with per package information.
Total fat, trans fat and saturated fat remain on the label. The calories from fat line was removed because studies show the type of fat affects health more than the amount.
Probably one of the more surprising changes, several units of measurement were altered. On the old label, vitamin D, A and E were reported in IU, which denoted international units. The new label reports vitamin D in micrograms (mcg), and vitamin A in mcg RAE, which refers to Retinol Activity Equivalents. Vitamin E now appears as a-tocopherol, and the IU has changed to milligrams (mg). Folate was reported on the old label in mcg, but the new label designates it as mcg DFE, which signifies Dietary Folate Equivalents.
NOTE: Converting International Units to milligrams and micrograms requires a different calculation from nutrient to nutrient, as it is based on chemical properties per substance. For example, vitamin D contains roughly .025 mcg per IU whereas vitamin E contains 0.67 mg per IU. To calculate the conversion of a nutrient, you can use this online tool.
Effects on Claims
Products that claim to be a high or rich source of a nutrient must contain at least 20 percent of the DV. Those that claim to be a good source of a nutrient must have a minimum of 10 percent of the DV.