FDA proposes new food labels

FDA proposes new food labels
(Courtesy of the FDA)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to update the two-decade old labels on food that tell consumers about nutritional content to make the information more clear and to more accurately reflect what people eat.

The new labels would emphasize calories with larger type and would include how much added sugar a product contains. They would also update out-of-date serving sizes to make them larger.

The move is an effort to give consumers better information about their food choices.

"Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a 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 in a statement. "So this is a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across this country."

The FDA commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, said the new labels would better reflect the link between diet and chronic disease.

Specifically, the FDA says proposed changes would:

• Require the amount of added sugar because many Americans eat too much.

• Update serving sizes to reflect how much people eat and not what they should eat

• Offer information on serving sizes by portion and for the package.

• Require information about potassium and vitamin D, nutrients for which many Americans are deficient.

• Revise daily values for sodium, fiber and vitamin D.

• Continue to require total fat, saturated fat and trans fat and eliminate calories from fat that is less important.

• Emphasize calories, serving sizes and percent of daily value.

This move is the first since 2006 when trans fats were added as a separate line item, a move that prompted manufacturers to reduce partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fats, according to the FDA. The agency will accept public comments for 90 days.

The proposal is largely winning praise from nutrition activist groups.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said the labels will better inform consumers, though officials there also called for a sustained educational campaign to help people understand exactly what all the information means.

"Today is a big win for consumers," registered dietitian nutritionist and academy President Dr. Glenna McCollum said in a statement. "The changes announced today are long overdue. There has been so much new research about consumers' use of food labels, chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and how specific nutrients affect our health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest supports the new label, though officials there want the FDA to include more information on salt and also push for front-of-package labels that can quickly tell consumers if a products is good or bad for them.

"Nutrition Facts labels have helped millions of Americans select healthier diets and have spurred food companies to compete more on the basis of nutrition," said Michael F. Jacobson, the group's executive director, in a statement. "But industry practices and understanding about nutrition have changed since the labels first appeared on packages 20 years ago. While the FDA is off to a strong start, the agency must do more to ensure that these labels communicate better advice on sugar and salt."