Using the Nutrition Facts Label for Client Health Education

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Using the Nutrition Facts Label for Client Health Education

As your clients start to see more and more foods packaged with the updated Nutrition Facts label, it’s important for them to know how to read and understand the label in order to succeed in making their own healthy food choices. The label was modified in 2016 by the FDA to encourage healthier and more informed eating habits. The compliance date for larger companies is January 2020, so consumers will see both the older and new label on grocery store shelves during this rollout period.

This blog will explore the changes for the new label and give you a few talking points to discuss with your clients. Use the colored boxes to refer to the label sections.

Nutrition Facts label education tool

Servings per Container

The Servings per Container now appears above the Serving Size and in a slightly larger font than on the old label. In addition, packages that contain between 2 and 3 servings of the product must now use a dual column label.

Why this is important:

When a food package contains between 2-3 servings (a pint of ice cream, for example), there is the possibility a consumer may eat the entire item in one sitting. In this case, the FDA wanted consumers to easily see the nutrient and caloric content of both a serving and the entire package. These packages will have a dual-column label:

Dual column label for per serving and per container

Talking points:

Double-check the number of servings per container. It’s easy to assume an individually packaged item is one serving, and/or that the label will display nutrients for the entire item, but this is not always the case, even with the new regs.

Serving Size

The Serving Size is listed in bold text in a slightly larger font than on the old label. In addition, the RACCs (Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed) have been updated.

Why this is important:

The RACCs have been updated to more accurately reflect the serving size Americans are likely consuming in one sitting. For example, the RACC for both ice cream and soda has increased. The previous RACC for ice cream was 1/2 cup and the updated RACC is 2/3 cup. For carbonated beverages, the RACC increased from 240 mL (8 fl oz) to 360 mL (12 fl oz).

Talking points:

The serving size is not necessarily the portion a consumer should eat or drink, but we, as consumers, tend to think of it as such. Make sure your clients are aware that the serving size now reflects what consumers probably will eat or drink.

Calories (but not Calories from Fat)

Calories! This is the most visually remarkable change. The value for calories is now the largest element on the label, and “Calories” itself is the second largest. In fact, “Calories” must be in a font the same size or larger than “Nutrition Facts.” Calories from Fat has been removed.

Why this is important:

This change makes it easier to see caloric content at a glance. The general rule is to consume about 2,000 calories per day.

Talking points:

Calorie needs may be higher or lower depending on age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. As far as fat goes, research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount. Therefore, consumers should avoid trans fats and limit the intake of saturated fats.

Added Sugars

You will now see “Added Sugars” and/or its %DV on most labels. Added Sugars includes either sugars added during food processing or single-ingredient sugar products, such as table sugar, honey, etc. Note: In the case of single-ingredient sugar products, only a %DV will appear on the Added Sugars line.

Why this is important:

Scientific data shows maintaining both healthy calorie intake and getting enough essential vitamins and minerals is difficult if added sugar consumption is excessive (more than 10 percent of total daily calories). The FDA wanted consumers to be able to see how much Added Sugar they were taking in.

Talking points:

Added sugars provide extra, empty calories, and it’s easy to exceed the recommended %DV. For example, one can of cola contains 39g of added sugar, or 78% of the DV for a 2,000-calorie diet, and provides 140 calories but no other nutrients. The higher a diet is in added sugars, the more difficult it will be to stay under the caloric limit while still getting the necessary nutrients.

Vitamin D and Potassium (but not Vitamins A and C)

Vitamin D and Potassium are now mandatory on the Nutrition Facts label, but Vitamins A and C no longer are.

Why this is important:

Americans are not getting enough Vitamin D and Potassium, and a deficiency can result in health problems. On the other hand, deficiencies in Vitamins A and C are rare these days.

Talking points:

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps ensure bone growth and calcium absorption. It also plays a role in immune function and helps protect against infections and disease. Potassium is a necessary mineral that helps regulate fluid balance and is needed for a healthy heart and nervous system.

Other Notable Changes

The %DVs for several nutrients have been updated in accordance with the latest science in an effort by the FDA to encourage healthy eating habits. This cheat sheet lists the nutrients that changed and what their new values are. These blogs on the FDA Label Nutrient Changes (Part 1 and Part II) go into more detail for some of the nutrients that changed.

Special focus on Dietary Fiber

For the 2016 labeling regulations, the FDA adopted a specific definition for Dietary Fiber.  Dietary Fiber on the 2016 Nutrition Facts label represents that which is considered beneficial to humans.

The Food Processor has two primary fields reporting dietary fiber:

  • Total Dietary Fiber is used for 1990 labels and for dietary fiber outside of the U.S.
  • Dietary Fiber 2016  is used for 2016 U.S.

Please be aware that depending on the source of the data, Dietary Fiber may be reported for either Total Dietary Fiber or Dietary Fiber 2016, or both.

Don’t Forget the Ingredient Statement

It hasn’t changed, but consumers often overlook its usefulness. The ingredient statement lists ingredients by weight, so what you see at and near the beginning of the list is what makes up the bulk of the food item. Look for ingredients, not filler.