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New facts panels aims to make Americans healthier

Look for a subtle shift in emphasis on back-label nutrition info on both foods and supplements.

Information is power, and FDA hopes its impending roll-out of new Nutrition Facts panels for foods and beverages as well as Supplements Facts panels for supplements will make Americans more aware of the nutritional profile of the products they consume. 

In particular, caloric counts, serving sizes and added sugars are more prominently highlighted. The range of mandatory vitamins and minerals listed gets a re-boot to reflect advances in nutrition science and reflect concerns about dietary habits of consumers.

“Public health professionals are hopeful that the population in general pays attention to the new Nutrition Facts panel and uses it for helping to make informed food decisions,” said Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., R.D., vice president of scientific affairs at Nutrasource, a contract research organization. “As a registered dietitian, I do think that this label offers consumers a better opportunity to be informed about what is being ingested.”

Significantly, the FDA rules mandate replacing “sugars” with “total sugars” in the list of dietary ingredients. The number of calories needs to be printed in larger, bold type, so that consumers will understand just exactly how many calories are in the package. Serving sizes are also to be more prominently listed.

The definition of added sugars includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.

The definition excludes fruit or vegetable juice concentrated from 100% fruit juice that is sold to consumers (e.g., frozen 100% fruit juice concentrate) as well as some sugars found in fruit and vegetable juices, jellies, jams, preserves and fruit spreads.

This next generation of the Nutrition Facts panel has utility to help the user for balancing caloric intake by being more aware of such as well as giving you the better ability to reject foods that are higher in added sugars,” Kalman said. “For the consumer, the Nutrition Facts label becomes more accurate and useful when it is easy to see what serving size of the food is suggested.”

Improvements Still at Play

Some industry veterans, however, see room for improvement. While serving size declarations are bolstered, there remains no uniformity across products.

Canada and the European Union both do a better job of creating a more “apple to apple comparison” between snack brands, according to Michael Goose, who is about to launch a hemp chip company, Let There Be Hemp Inc., and was also former marketing director at Hain Celestial Group for 16 years.

“In Canada, all serving sizes of snacks are 50 grams,” he said “The U.S. is a bit of a marketing game. How do you deal with nutritionals here with smaller snack sizes that don’t even meet the full serving size? I can make my chip the whole 5-ounce bag and my protein goes to 35 grams per serving.” How do we eliminate this confusion for consumers with how much a serving size is?

A problem that still does not exactly go away is with single-serve beverages that have labels that look healthier because the manufacturers are declaring that there are actually two servings in the one bottle.

“Nobody puts their drink down after half because they say I’ve met my serving,” Goose observed.

Another area for improvement, Goose asserted, is to break down the fiber content to soluble and insoluble fibers.

“I think they need to take it further and break it down to soluble and insoluble fiber,” he said. “There is a balance you need with both fibers. Insoluble goes right through you. It cleans you out. Soluble fiber goes into your bloodstream and there are different benefits for both of those.”

Deadlines and Dollar Signs

Manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales have until Jan. 1, 2020, before the new label is required, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have until 2021. Manufacturers of single-ingredient sugars such as honey and maple syrup and certain cranberry products have until July 1, 2021, to make the changes.

The format of the Supplement Facts label is also getting a tweak. Similar to the Nutrition Facts label, the FDA will no longer require vitamin A, vitamin C or calories from fat to be declared as dietary ingredients, and instead will require vitamin D, potassium and added sugars to be declared.

Furthermore, the Daily Values have been updated based on recent science, and also updated are the units of measures. For example, vitamin D will no longer be required to be listed in IU (International Units) but instead in micrograms, with an option to continue listing the IU dose in parenthesis. 

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