If you’ve ever finished a bag of potato chips, then looked at the nutritional facts label, you probably discovered that the amount you consumed was actually double, triple or even quadruple what you thought it was. Confusing nutritional facts labels make it difficult to truly understand your real caloric consumption. After reviewing this NBCA Health Bulletin, hopefully reading a food label will be less daunting. On July 26, 2018, new updates to the Nutritional Facts Label were implemented by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), geared towards making it easier for consumers to make informed food choices, especially when it comes to counting calories, sugars and carbohydrates. The good news is that all food manufacturers in the United States are now required to use the new label, which emphasizes more realistic serving sizes and include easier to understand nutritional information.
WHAT IS A CALORIE?
In order to fully understand the foods you are consuming, the first step you should take is to look at your calorie consumption. You hear the word all the time, but do you know what a calorie is? Simply put, calories are energy. The caloric value of a food can be determined by measuring the composition of carbohydrates, protein and fat in that food. Carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram, while fats contain 9 calories per gram. All calories are not created equally. It’s important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) bases its nutrition labels on a 2,000-calorie diet. The footnote of the nutrition label will soon be modified to better explain what “percent Daily Value” means.
The FDA’s percent Daily Value is a percentage of the 2,000-calorie diet that the FDA recommends as general nutrition advice. However, it is important to note that this information is used as a general guideline. Most people do not need 2,000 calories per day, especially if they are sedentary. Conversely, an elite athlete such as an NBA player, needs to consume a much greater number of calories.
THE NEW NUTRITION LABEL: HOW MANY CALORIES ARE REALLY IN YOUR FOOD?
With the recently implemented changes to nutritional labels this past July, you will begin to see subtle, yet helpful changes on packaged food products. The FDA’s goal is to create a consumer-friendly label that enables one to make informed nutrition and caloric decisions when putting fuel into one’s body. The modifications to the label focus primarily on the amount of food being consumed (the number of calories, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals). The look and feel of the label will remain unchanged and FDA scientists have tweaked the image slightly in efforts to promote healthier living. The label changes include an increased font size of the calorie count, servings per container, and serving size. In addition to font changes, the FDA is mandating that food manufacturers include the actual amount and percent Daily Value of vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium on the food label. It is optional to include information about other vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C. The FDA’s stated rationale for this change is, that on average, Americans consume enough vitamin A and C, but not enough vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. According to the Center for Disease Control, consumption of Vitamin D and potassium are essential in maintaining bone health, lowering blood pressure, and reducing risk of chronic disease. Though altering the font size on the label may seem trivial, there are some more pronounced changes that should be noted.
The changes to the amount of sugar in a food product on the Nutrition Facts Label is especially significant when it comes to overall calorie consumption. The FDA has included:
“Added Sugars” on the label and the percent Daily Value based on grams of sugar. The FDA’s definition of “Added Sugar,” states that these sugars are added during the process of creating or packaging the food and include syrups, honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit and vegetables juices “that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.”
When consumed in excess, calories from sugar can displace calories from nutrient dense foods making it more difficult to meet needs for fiber, vitamins and minerals, while staying within a healthy calorie range. It is important to read all labels for added sugars as a contributing source of calories. Sugars hide in foods such as tomato sauces, yogurts, cereals, energy bars, salad dressings, breads and more.
The FDA has also done research on dietary fat and consumer eating habits, leading to further changes on the label. After years of following the same nutritional guidelines, the FDA altered the recommended Daily Values of sodium, fiber, and vitamin D. They will no longer include “Calories from Fat” on the label because recent findings have shown that the type of fat is more important than the actual amount of it that contributes to the total calorie count. (The American Heart Association strongly suggests replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as fish, nuts, seeds and avocado.) The changes also reflect the recommendation for a reduction in sodium in commercially processed and prepared foods. Referencing the percent Daily Value will allow consumers to make smarter decisions regarding their sodium intake, which will help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
FDA findings have also concluded that today’s actual serving sizes are larger than the previously recommended serving sizes on food packaging. Therefore, food companies are required to change the serving size to meet actual eating patterns, i.e. a small package of food that is typically consumed in one sitting will no longer have a serving size of two, but will now be changed to a single serving. However, food manufacturers are presented with the option to label a product with two Nutrition Facts Labels—one for consumption per serving and one for consumption in a single sitting and one for consumption in multiple sittings.
The changes made to the label are a small yet mighty step to keeping our overall caloric consumption in check. Artificial ingredients, colors, and preservatives are not as clearly incorporated on food labels, but they are just as crucial to your health as the other information that is provided. Therefore, it is imperative that consumers look at the “Ingredients” section, along with the other sections, to truly understand what is in their food.
Looking at a nutritional label can seem daunting. There are many numbers and categories and little context for you to understand what a “good” or “bad” number may be. This Health Bulletin aims to simplify that process by laying out some recent changes to the food label and help make you more informed going forward.
* Nutritional tips written by Stacy Goldberg, and the Savorfull Team. Stacy Goldberg is the Official Health and Wellness/Nutritional Consultant for the National Basketball Coaches Association.
Stacy Goldberg – MPH, RN, BSN CEO & Founder
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