For the first time since it began requiring them more than 20 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed an overhaul of the nutrition labels on packaged foods and beverages. Approval would mean a greater emphasis on total calorie counts and added sugars, more realistic serving sizes, and updated information about specific nutrients—measures intended to combat the nation’s obesity epidemic.
The FDA’s plans include removing the “calories from fat” numbers in favor of emphasizing the total calorie count and breakdowns of the types of fat (e.g. saturated and trans), which nutritionists say are more important. Both natural and added sugars will be highlighted, and some nutrient daily values will be adjusted, including those for potassium, vitamin D and sodium.
Serving size adjustments would also be made to better correspond with the amounts of food typically consumed in one sitting. People don’t typically eat just half a cup of ice cream or drink eight ounces of a 20-ounce soda, for example; the new labels would increase those figures to a full cup of ice cream and entire bottle of soda. The FDA also plans to add 25 labeling categories for products like sun-dried tomatoes and sesame oil, which weren’t common the last time label requirements were updated.
Today’s nutrition information is leaps and bounds beyond the first labels of the late 1960s, when more people cooked at home and information was provided mainly for special dietary needs. When consumers began eating more processed foods—and as they have become more educated and focused on monitoring their diets—the FDA made nutrition labeling mandatory for most prepared and packaged foods.
Following a 90-day comment period, during which health experts and public consumers alike may offer thoughts on the proposed changes, the FDA hopes to make its final decision by the end of 2014, expecting manufacturing companies to meet the new standards within the next two years. iBi