New nutrition labels will be hitting food shelves starting July 26, 2018. The wellness-minded Michelle Obama further cemented her food policy legacy by bringing the administration, food companies, and the FDA to the table to make some important and long overdue changes. If you aren’t a nutrition geek like myself you may not find this new requirement exciting, but the reasons why these changes have been made can further enhance your knowledge of nutrition.
For the past 2 decades we have been looking at the same nutrition labels, with the exception of the addition of Franken-fat…I mean trans-fat, in 2003 (*be careful of the loophole!). During the time that nutrition labels were originally designed in 1990, experts were still supporting ominous margarine, so it may be safe to say that were have learned a lot about proper nutrition in the past two decades.
These updates reflect the advancement of our nutrition knowledge and the effects of food on our health. Unfortunately, these nutrition labels don’t improve the food provided, but if we understand the reasoning behind the redesign we can become healthier consumers.
…If we understand the reasoning behind the redesign we can become healthier consumers.
Although, I am going to explain the health lessons that can be learned from this redesign, I still stand firm on my stance that the healthiest foods don’t have a label!
Being an informed consumer is being empowered with knowledge and can directly affect your personal heath status. I hold the strong opinion that the problem with poor nutrition is much bigger than nutrition labels. To think that our country is getting bigger and sicker because the font on the nutrition label is too small or that it takes too much time to compare the grams of sugar by the number of servings we eat is comical. Yes, every bit of change helps, but the big component that is missing is nutrition education. The nutrition facts may be laid out more clearly, but that doesn’t mean that people understand how much sugar, fat, sodium, or protein they need. So let me take this opportunity to explain the new nutrition label guidelines, but more importantly why these changes matter and how they can help you make better nutrition choices.
Changes to nutrition labels, and the lessons we can learn from them:
SERVING SIZE. The new guidelines will represent more realistic serving sizes in addition to larger bolder type. Currently when you buy a box of crackers, a container of yogurt, or a bottled drink, the portion size may only be a fraction of what you would typically eat in a sitting. For example; a 16 fl. oz. bottled drink that you buy today most likely states the nutrition facts for 8 fl. oz., 2 servings. Therefore the label only represents half the bottle, when in reality the consumer will most likely drink the whole bottle. So at first glance the calories or grams of sugar on the label may seem acceptable, but multiply that by the number of servings you will consume, and you may reconsider.
Single or Multiple Servings. There are some food products we consume throughout multiple sittings or in a single sitting. There will now be two columns to indicate the per-serving and per-package calorie and nutrition information. That will save you from doing some math when contemplating a pint of ice cream.
My Thoughts: Have you ever compared the portion sizes on cereal labels, it can be maddening if you are comparing calories, one box will have a serving size of 1 cup while another will use 2/3 cup and the next one will be ¾ cup. This allows the manufactures flexibility to chose a serving size that makes their product look most appealing based on the assumption that the consumer won’t take the time to multiply the serving size by the amount they actually eat. Raise your hand if you take your calculator to the store… not me. Keep your hand up if bigger and bolder font will make you pay more attention. My hope is that the serving size will be more standardized so this is an easier process for individuals to compare options.
Insight: Our portions are too big!!!! This should not be a surprise. Americans have more than tripled serving sizes over the past 50 years with free sides, ‘super-sized’ and ‘economical’ meals. Getting more for your money is a thrilling concept, but at what expense to your health and waistline? Understand the appropriate portions and the suggested guidelines to meet your needs and health risks or conditions. If you need assistance, work with a dietitian that can assess your needs based on your height, weight, body mass, activity level and personal health status.
CALORIES. The number of calories (per serving size) will be in a larger and bolder type. The FDA states that calories reflect the growing obesity epidemic. (Oh, is that it?)
‘Calories From Fat’ Removed. The ‘Calories from Fat’ line will be removed. This reason for this is that not all fat is created equal. We need healthy fats in our diets, such as monounsaturated fats and omega 3s. We can no longer believe that fat that is put in our mouths in going be stored in our bellies.
Insight: You won’t need to take you microscope to the grocery store anymore? Yes, a bigger and bolder font is always better, but what I would like to emphasize is that the quality of the calories is more important than the quantity. For example, the 100-calorie pack of Oreo cookies is not the same as ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt with ½ berries that is also 100 calories. Yes, the first rule of thermodynamics applies, calories in vs. calories out, but there are so many more benefits of real food than just lower calories.
ADDED SUGAR. Finally! In 2015 the American Dietary Guidelines recommended limiting calories from added sugar. Hooray! But how do we know what is naturally occurring sugar and what is added? Currently the label doesn’t distinguish between the two. If you are comfortable with the befuddling language of the ingredients list you may be able to figure out the added sugars, but the amount is still a mystery. This new change will allow us to understand how much of the sugar is natural and how much is added.
The next change regarding sugar is an added % Daily Value (%DV). The %DV (on the right side of the label) represents the recommended amounts of key nutrients, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Although 2,000 calories may or may not be the appropriate amount of calories for you, it serves as a reference to determine if the food is high or low in a particular nutrient. This addition will be a great reference guide for anyone who is concerned about sugar -which should be everyone.
Insight: Sugar is our most ubiquitous and addictive food additive, and it is disguised well. We have become so accustomed to sugar in our diets that we even dress our meats and salads in it (yup, check your labels). The fat-free and low-fat revolution only enhanced our intake of sugar, because if fat is removed, you better believe it will only be palatable if sugar is added.
It has been estimated that the average American consumes approximately 90 grams of sugar a day! To put that in perspective, that is about 22 tsp., adding up to 154 tsp. a week!
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum amount of added sugar each day for both men and women. Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons of sugar). Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar).
A large portion of my practice is coaching individuals on how to achieve this. One of the most rewarding parts of my practice is seeing the positive changes in people when they do cut down sugar; the health and emotional changes are truly outstanding.
I hope this will force manufacturers to reconsider their ingredients and formulations. Because of the vague sugar labels today, an orange juice manufacturer can state that it is made with natural orange juice but only use 1 tsp. of real orange juice while the rest is added sugar, no joke! Once we see the amount of added sugar on the label, this can no longer be a secret.
Based on the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine recommendations, the %DV for sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D will improve.
DIETARY FIBER. Current recommendations suggest that Americans eat up to 25 grams of fiber day. The new recommendations increased to 28 grams of fiber a day. This change will be reflected in the %DV. For example, if a food contains 5 grams of fiber, the current label states it is 20%DV, the new label will reflect 18%DV.
Lesson: Fiber is an essential and beneficial component of our diet. It plays a large role in digestion, satiety, preventing constipation, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Insight: The amount of fiber we need depends on our gender, age, health, and the amount and type of calories we consume each day. The source of fiber is also important. The most beneficial sources of fiber will be from vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Even though a food label has states the grams of fiber, I encourage you to look at the ingredients list to ensure that it is a fiber from a whole food.
SODIUM. The %DV is currently based on a maximum of 2,400 mg of sodium a day for a healthy individual. The future label will be based on 2,300 mg a day.
Lesson: About 75% of dietary sodium comes from eating packaged and restaurant foods. Most Americans eat too much sodium, which directly raises blood pressure. High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’ for the reason that is asymptomatic and can lead to heart disease, heart attack and/or stroke. Note: for an individual with hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, or a predisposition to hypertension, the recommendation is a maximum of 1,550 mg/day.
NUTRIENT INFORMATION ADDED
VITAMIN D. Vitamin D will be added to the nutrition label for the first time, in addition to %DV. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiently is a global public health problem affecting an estimated 1 billion people. Many American adults and children are deficient in Vitamin D.
Insight: Vitamin D has long been known as a crucial player in bone health; it must be present to absorb calcium and promote bone growth and strength. Vitamin D deficiency is now also linked to many chronic diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. In addition, a deficiency can commonly contribute to depression and metabolic and cognitive disorders.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it will be best absorbed when taken with a dietary fat. There are two forms of vitamin D: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 comes from fortified foods, plant foods, and some supplements. Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, comes from fortified foods, animal foods (fatty fish, cod liver oil, eggs, and liver), and supplements. It can be made internally when your skin is exposed to UV light from the sun. Vitamin D3 been shown to be the best choice for supplementation. The amount necessary to correct your deficiency depends on your current vitamin D levels. It is also important to understand your deficiency, is it dietary or physiological? Speak with your practitioner about your vitamin D levels and specific amount of D3 you should be taking to reverse your deficiency.
POTASSIUM. Potassium will be added to the nutrition label with a %DV. Many health professionals have been asking for more visible information on potassium for the reason that a large portion of the population needs to either increase of limit their potassium intake. Potassium must be ingested daily because the body can’t conserve it.
Insight: A mineral and electrolyte, potassium is needed by our bodies in order to work properly. It plays an important role in muscle contraction, including your heart (an important muscle!), by keeping your heart pumping. It helps manage your blood pressure and counterbalance some of sodium’s harmful effects, therefore reducing risk of stroke. Potassium also promotes efficient brain function by helping to deliver oxygen to the brain, further preventing a stroke. Moreover, this important mineral plays a role in nerve function, kidney health and fluid balance.
People who are interested in upping their potassium intake should eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Meat, fish, soy and dairy are also good sources of the mineral. But if one is mainly eating packaged foods, it is important to have a high ratio of potassium versus sodium.
Note: For individuals with compromised kidney function, potassium must be monitored and managed. Potassium may also alter the way some drugs work in the body, another good benefit to adding potassium to nutrition labels – no more guessing!
NUTRIENT INFORMATION OMITTED
VITAMIN C. Since vitamin C deficiency is not a common condition or public health concern, it has been omitted from the nutrition label to make room for nutrients that are commonly lacking in our diets.
Insight: A deficiency in vitamin C is known as Scurvy…which may remind you of stories of malnourished pirates in the 18th century. Although it was a large concern for sea-goers that didn’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, our food today is fortified and sometimes preserved with vitamin C. So it is uncommon, but not eradicated in the modern world. When scurvy does pop up these days, it is usually associated with the elderly, chronic alcoholics, or severely neglected children. But there are in fact cases in which individuals are vitamin C deficient due to poor diets that don’t contain regular fruits and vegetables or even fortified foods. The good news is that scurvy or a mild vitamin C deficiency is easy to reverse along with the symptoms.
Vitamin C plays a crucial role in growth and repair of tissues in all our body parts. It helps synthesize collagen, which is an important protein for regeneration of skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. For this reason, it is necessary for healing wounds and repairing and maintaining bones and teeth. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that can help neutralize pollutants and toxins, regenerate other antioxidants, helping delay the natural aging process. Vitamin C has a loooong list of important roles in our body – another strong case for fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate daily. If you want to supplement vitamin C, go for it, it is water-soluble so whatever you don’t need you will excrete.