In the United States, there are many different types of labels - nutrition, supplement, cosmetic, chemical, and drug facts - and each category has different legal requirements they must meet in order to be put on the market. Not confusing at all, right? The laws can be highly political, leading to misinformation and confusion. To add even more to the cesspool - there can be separate rules or definitions for parts of each label. Because there is so much information - I’m going to stick to the one you use every day: the nutrition label (though I encourage you to research the others!).
The government recently passed legislation that changed the nutrition facts label, effective starting in July of 2018. Below are the differences (image taken from the FDA’s website with added emphasis):
Let’s review the why and what of these changes:
RED/GREEN: This is just a simple adjustment. They changed the labels to make the calorie and serving content more visible in an effort to make the population more aware of serving sizes and caloric intake, due to the growing obesity rate in the US. They also removed the total calories from fat due to all the research that shows the type of fat is more important than the amount (finally!). They also adjusted the serving sizes to be more realistic, basing it off of how much a person actually consumes at one time, not what they should be eating. A great example of this change is soda bottles. Their labels will all change to reflect a one-serving amount, whether it’s a 12 oz. or 20 oz. bottle.
BLUE: This is my favorite part of the new label requirements. They are requiring companies to disclose the amount of “added sugar” to the product. As research has clearly shown, sugar is the main culprit of our health crisis in the US. Too much sugar = fat storage. You can find the definition of what “added sugar” is at www.fda.gov. For more information on this subject, consider watching the documentary Sugar Coated.
ORANGE: This one is interesting. They’ve changed how nutrients are listed. You still get the percentage of the daily amount, but now you also get exactly how much of each nutrient is in the product in terms of weight. Weight is not my favorite measurement, but it’s an improvement over not knowing at all. They are requiring Vitamin D, Potassium, Calcium, and Iron to be listed on the labels. They’ve also decided that Vitamin A and C are not required ingredients, mainly because we are no longer in an extreme deficit of those two nutrients. Manufacturers can still add them voluntarily.
What else you need to know:
Trans Fat: In my opinion, this is one of the most deceptive practices in labeling that still exists (but not for long!). Just because your label says it has “Zero Trans Fat” DOES NOT mean that there are no trans fats in your product. It means that your product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat PER SERVING. How do you know your product has trans fat? Look for the word “hydrogenated”. If you find it in any form - there are trans fats involved. LUCKILY, the FDA has banned the addition of trans fats to foods starting July of 2018. Thank goodness!
Sugars: This is a long discussion, but there are some quick things you should know. Four to five grams of sugar is equivalent to about a teaspoon. You should consume less than 24 grams of added sugar in a day. Note that there is still no information on Daily Values for sugar because most processed foods go far above what we should be eating in a day. Anything ending in -ose is a form of sugar. Watch out for the particular harmful impersonator called “corn sugar”, it’s code for high fructose corn syrup, one of the most harmful forms of sugar you can consume (I can hear the cries of pancreas’s everywhere!).
“Non-sugars”, or artificial sweeteners, are also dangerous. Avoid aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose if you can. If you want to know what sugars are better for you - check out our previous 2016 Almanac article about the glycemic index or Google it.
Dietary Fiber: keep an eye on this one! What is classified as fiber and what is not is an interesting discussion that’s still happening at the time of this writing. There’s naturally occurring fiber and synthetic fibers. Find out what meets the dietary fiber criteria at www.fda.gov.
There’s a lot more to labeling - keep yourself updated by visiting the FDA’s website and staying politically active! Changes are happening all the time and across the various industries. Your voice is important!