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Category: Nutrition

FDA’s Nutrition Facts Are Changing

By: Austin Perlmutter, MD, Medical Student, Miller School of Medicine

After 20 years, the FDA has plans for a major overhaul of the Nutrition Facts label. This is a big deal, as the sticker is required on the majority of American packaged foods. In reality, the Nutrition Facts label represents one of the best sources of information on our groceries. The FDA claims its changes reflect a “greater understanding of nutrition science,” and will lead to a label that will “[address] current public health concerns.” These are important changes, and here’s what’s actually happening.  

  • More accurate serving sizes 

In response to our supersized portions, the FDA seeks to more adequately describe what we eat, emphasizing “more realistic” serving sizes. They specifically target the impact of packaging, understanding that both a 12 or 20 ounce soda bottle will likely be consumed in one sitting, and should therefore both be treated as a single serving.

If nothing else, this change will allow us to be more honest with ourselves. Instead of subdividing our indulgences into unreasonably small portions, we can have a firmer grasp on what we’re actually eating in a single sitting. On the other hand, it may allow people to feel better about eating something like a pint of ice cream all at once.

  • Calories front and center

By magnifying the calorie count of the enclosed food, the FDA believes they are “[emphasizing] parts of the label that are important in addressing current public health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Certainly, chronic disease conditions like the aforementioned are strongly associated with dietary choices. However, broadcasting calorie count promotes snap judgment as to the overall health value of a given food. For example, almonds are a high calorie food, but can still be a healthful addition to diet. Conversely, low calorie snack packs contain a smaller quantity of an unhealthful food, though the package may still be low in calories overall. This change brings up the quality versus quantity argument as it relates to calories, and may not give consumers adequate information to properly use the printed values.

  • No more “calories from fat”

As scientific research continues to demonstrate, the consumption of fat is not a health problem in itself. According to the FDA, “the total fat in the diet is less important than the type of fat.” In addition, the FDA’s research found that getting rid of the “calories from fat” label does not affect people’s ability to judge the healthfulness of a product. Still, the new label will retain the saturated fat, trans-fat and total fat sections.

The first thing to note here is that by the FDA’s own admission, the “calories from fat” labeling is pointless. It seems reasonable to retain the total fat content, and we should be told if a product contains toxic trans-fats. However, research on saturated fat has shown that it may not be the villain previously thought. Requiring a saturated fat component may not be a problem, but unless the label shows other healthy fats alongside, many will get the wrong idea.

  • Sugar explained

As of now, the Nutrition Facts label includes “sugars” as a single number. The new version seeks to clarify total sugar content by breaking down the amount of added sugar. The FDA feels “added sugars provide no additional nutrient value,” and are “empty calories.”  Therefore, the “added sugar” will inform the consumer as to the amount of unnecessary extra sweetener.

 The added sugar labeling may be the most important component of the label revisions. For the first time, the consumer will be made aware of how much extra sugar is pumped into the foods and liquids we purchase. As the FDA understands, the added sugar has no health value whatsoever, and is a huge source of unhealthy calories. If we could properly use this part of the label as a general level of unhealthiness of the product, the health ramifications could be huge, as added sugar is directly involved in the pathogenesis of obesity and chronic disease.

  •  Other changes

The updated label will also include a variety of other modifications, including a different set of required vitamins and minerals. These changes are based on “nutrients Americans don’t eat enough of.” Due to current research, and common deficiencies, inclusion of vitamin D and potassium levels will be necessary, and vitamin A and C no longer obligatory. In addition, the FDA is considering lowering the daily sodium value to 1.5 grams from the current 2.3 grams, on the basis of high typical sodium consumption and the resultant implications for blood pressure

Including vitamin D and potassium makes sense from a scientific perspective. With the growing body of research on common deficiencies, increasing awareness of our intake of these key nutrients is a good plan. Especially important is the emphasis on vitamin D, as our data showing a deficiency leads to risk for a wide range of health problems. As far as sodium, it’s hard to say how much of an impact changing the daily value would make. Americans are already doing a poor job with salt, consuming around 3.5 grams of sodium a day relative to the recommended 2.3. While it’s reasonable to shoot for a lower value, it’s not going to matter much if nobody follows the guidelines anyway.

What you need to know: The new rendition of the Nutrition Facts label will likely hit shelves within the next few years. This label is an essential read for the health-conscious consumer. Key things to look at include:

  • Total calories: Be aware of this number mostly if it is very high or very low. Calories are necessary and the source of the calories is much more important than the quantity.
  • Fat content: Worry less about the total fat and more about the source of the fat. Saturated fat isn’t the end of the world, but trans-fats are not good in any amount. Consider the level of processing involved in the product, as fats that prolong shelf life are good to avoid.
  • Added sugar: The most important part of the new label. The more added sugar, the less healthful the product. Shoot for foods with little to no added sugar to maximize a food’s health benefits.

For more information, order your copy of Grain Brain today and join Dr. Perlmutter’s email list.

  • Linda Stotz

    I’m glad they’re doing away with the info on the 2000 and 2500 cal. If people were saying it’s okay to eat that much no wonder our nation is overweight. And the nutrition facts were based on men, Women and children have different needs. I always thought it was strange that the FDA who are suppose to be smart people would come up with labeling like that. I want to know grams and mg’s not percentages that I have to reconfigure anyway. Thank you.
    I do have a question:Why are vitamin amounts figured for minimum rather than optimal daily requirements?
    Linda Stotz

  • David Perlmutter

    Great question Linda – I think it may be because no one can agree on what’s “optimal” as yet.

    • Lynn Dell

      Dr. Perlmutter, a personal example of this, is the issue of painless muscular cramping we (husband and I) still have from time to time. Reading over the simplified explanations out there, I have learned about phytic acid, the benefits of soaking raw nuts to reduce this (which I have yet to do), the role of one probiotic bacteria in producing phytase, which would lessen the effect of phytic acid on key mineral depletion, AND the importance of magnesium.

      We do take a multivitamin which has magnesium oxide, and are eating more green leafy vegetables. But I have recently heard and read that ramping up the D3 levels in our respective bodies may be increasing the requirements we have of magnesium as well, on account of whatever roles magnesium has in Vitamin D’s biochemical functions.

      Any thoughts anybody has on this would be appreciated vis a vis, what levels of magnesium should one take if one is taking 5000 units of D3 per day, what form of magnesium is best, etc. etc.. I realize it’s impossible to say, because we each have different blood levels and differing requirements, but I would like some ballpark ideas.

      • David Perlmutter

        As a rule – it’s best to adjust vitamin D dosage based upon blood level

        • Lynn Dell

          Thanks.

          1) I wonder if vitamin D levels may be low *because* magnesium levels are low. Probably not, but I wonder.

          2) a) I wonder if, when ramping up vitamin D3 levels, if good magnesium levels become low, or else is not used for whatever else magnesium does, because it is “too busy” being used as a cofactor to the increased D3, and therefore it also needs to be increased in the diet, and if so, by how much?

          2) b) I wonder if it is more easy to get to optimal vitamin D3 levels if there is always adequate magnesium in the diet.

          3) Whatever, I am going to try to keep stuffing kale and spinach in, and perhaps adding a magnesium supplement a few times a week, in addition to the multivitamin I already take.

          • radicaldreamer33

            Lynn? My own personal recommendation would be to not rely upon Magnesium Oxide as a source for your daily Magnesium needs. It appears to be one of the most poorly absorbed forms of it. Chris Kresser actually has a great blog post discussing the importance of Magnesium in the diet, and mentions the forms of it that are actually fairly bioavailable (high-absorption).

            http://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-4-supplement-wisely

            One of the newest forms of Magnesium available which I have recently started taking is Magnesium L-Threonate. The science behind it is fairly exciting, showing cognitive benefits in animal studies by MIT.

            http://magtein.com/thescience.html

            Dr. Mercola also mentions this particular form of Magnesium on his website in this article:

            http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/12/17/magnesium-benefits.aspx

          • Lynn Dell

            Thanks for those links – I am listening to the diabetes online seminar now, but will look these up later on.

  • Karla Journey

    Dr. Perlmutter…I am a Registered Dietitian, Diabetes Educator…love your book

    • David Perlmutter

      Glad to know we’re on the same team Karla.

  • Deborah Marrs

    i wish they would change the “ingredients”! and call a spade a spade… like instead of calling something “natural flavor” call it wheat, When will they do that?

  • Karan

    Dr. Perlmutter, I just saw you on Fox News discussing your book. I IMMEDIATELY ordered it, received it yesterday and started reading it last night. I can’t tell you enough how much I support what you are saying and writing about. Great job from a normal, not paid endorsee who has a father paying the price (dementia) for his carb loaded lifestyle. I absolutely REFUSE to end my days like him if I can help it.

    • David Perlmutter

      Glad to hear it Karan. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Page

    I’m very eager to become gluten-free and eat low-glycemic foods–I just finished Grain Brain and I’m recommending it to everyone. I was vegan, but am now reintroducing eggs and salmon. I still have a confusion about “soy protein isolate” and “soy lecithin” on food labels…I was so happy to find “gluten-free” labeled bars on market–but they have these 2 ingredients. So, are these still considered “gluten-free” and are they acceptable for consumption, to truly remain in boundaries of grain brain lifestyle recommendations? Are products containing soy protein isolate and soy lecithin acceptable as gluten-free? Secondly, thank you so much for your amazing research and books. I also just bought “Raising a Smarter Child by Kindergarten” and hope apply your techniques to my 3 year old daughter, Burkley–she has rare, incurable disease called an Arteriovenous Malformation. I initially found recommendations for your book Grain Brain on a national AVM support group site. She was born with her AVM and has had 8 surgeries in 15 months. She’ll have surgeries the rest of her life, as there is no cure—her AVM is located on her entire right ear, surrounding scalp and down to front of the neck. I’m trying to do anything and everything to make sure her diet helps, not hinders, her physical symptoms–so incorporating the Grain Brain philosophy just makes sense for us–and everyone else in my opinion! Thank you Dr. Perlmutter! I’m so happy to have found you!

  • Dennis Whalen

    Dr. Perlmutter – loved your book. I have been following your protocol but am afraid of loosing too much weight. ( I’m already slim). Being fairly active at 60 years of age I still need over 2000 calories per day. What do you suggest?

  • JanetLee

    Loved the book. Had the detailed bloodwork (only issue is low D). Started all of the supplements plus collagen hydrolysate 1T/day. Suddenly my saccarilliac flares up. I’m 58 and healthy. GP prescribed Voltaren. How is it that all these anti-inflammatory supplements make me flame up? I must be doing something wrong? When I stop the supplements, my back feels better the next day. When I start back up, the pain returns. Any ideas?

  • Mukesh Agrawal

    Very informative article. I’m glad, finally, FDA is waking up.
    FDA site has a detailed version –

    http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm

  • felish da fish

    hi i am felish da fish and i liek bunz and poopooz

  • felish da fish

    i do not like to bunz and poopooz

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