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FDA proposes changes to Nutrition Facts Label

Sysco Shape April 2014

New proposals from FDA seek to alter serving-size requirements, emphasize total calories, added sugars

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is hoping that its newly proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts Label for packaged foods and beverages will enable Americans to make more informed dietary choices in their daily routines.

Based on current scientific information as well as changes in the way Americans typically eat and drink, the FDA is recommending that the label should emphasize total calories, added sugars and such nutrients as potassium and Vitamin D.

The agency also believes that serving-size requirements for foods and beverages need to be revamped to align better with current consumption trends.

First Lady and nutrition advocate Michelle Obama voiced support for the proposed changes, saying, "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. So this is a big deal..."

The Nutrition Facts Label has been required for packaged foods and beverages since the 1990s. Consequently, experts maintain, the new proposals are both timely and necessary. Lauren Swann, food labeling expert and president of Concept Nutrition Inc., Bensalem, Penn., says the government has not revisited nutrition labels for about 20 years, during which time “a different set of public health concerns has evolved.”

The FDA's new proposals seek to address the problem by making current information available to the public in as effective a manner as possible.

One of the more central changes to the label would be the adjustment of serving-size requirements for food and drinks. According to Swann, the proposed rules attempt to align more accurately with the amount of food or beverage a person is likely to consume during one eating occasion. For instance, the new label would assume that an individual is more likely to consume an entire 20-ounce bottle of soda during one occasion rather than stopping at 8 ounces as is currently referenced. As a result, the new proposals suggest the serving size should reflect the size of the entire bottle.

The FDA says it expects that 17 percent of serving sizes will be changed.

Portion sizes, in fact, have grown over the years, a trend well known to members of the restaurant community. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average hamburger portion size in 1955 was 3.9 ounces. By 2006, that had tripled to 12 ounces. Over the same period, the average weight for a man climbed from 166.3 lbs. to 194.7 lbs., the CDC says.

Mark Mignogna, vice president, quality assurance for Sysco, Houston, notes that while the industry "will want to do the right thing, it might have conflicting data that runs counter [to what the FDA is proposing]. Serving size has always been a contentious issue…and I think the implementation of the new proposal will be fairly complicated."

"I think it's a good thing to provide the consumer with information they need to make informed choices and maintain healthy diets," he continues, "but the information has to be accurate, up-to-date and add value."

Nevertheless, he adds, "We will continue to include nutritional labeling on Sysco-brand products and make sure the label remains aligned with whatever the rules are."

Another proposed change is to remove the "calories from fat" item and instead emphasize total calories in each serving, which would then be presented more prominently on the label. According to the FDA, the reason for the decision is that it has been discovered that the type of fat contained in a product matters more than the calories from fat. The label would continue to require "Total Fat," "Saturated Fat" and "Trans Fat" data to be listed.

The FDA also would require the manufacturer to indicate how much added sugar a product contains, Swann says. Experts currently maintain that it is difficult to know exactly how much sugar is naturally occurring in some products.

In addition, Swann says manufacturers would be required to declare on the label the amount of potassium and Vitamin D, which the FDA characterizes as new “nutrients of public health significance.” Listing calcium and iron would continue to be required, and Vitamins A and C could be included on a voluntary basis.

The FDA also is planning to update the daily value for some nutrients. For example, the agency is proposing to lower the daily limit for sodium from 2,400 milligrams to 2,300 milligrams.

Overall, experts applaud the FDA’s new proposals.

"The proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) represent an exciting time and a big step forward in improving nutrition education and, hopefully, consumer behavior," says Melissa Berlin, senior specialist, nutrition services at Sysco. "I’m happy to see a much needed refresh to reflect the evolving science of nutrition. Updated serving-size requirements and new labeling requirements for products generally consumed in one sitting are accounting for people's actual eating behavior. The inclusion of Potassium and Vitamin D are long overdue and welcomed by nutrition professionals."

"The important next step," she adds, "will be increased nutrition education so we don’t lose sight of the goal of making the NFP more meaningful to consumers."

Swann agrees, saying she believes going forward that Americans likely will see even more voluntary disclosure. "It won't be just fat and fiber and sodium — we'll probably see more claims about gluten-free, allergies, GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and local sourcing."

"The big question mark is whether it will change consumer behavior. We've seen articles saying [labeling] isn't doing anything. But I think we've made some progress. We're seeing people take steps in the right direction. There is a slow but gradual shift going on."


 

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