The FDA are going out of their way to help people make healthy choices, which they are doing via a two-pronged approach. The first part is providing the information you need to make those choices.
The second is that the FDA is helping food manufacturers change or reformulate their recipes so that the food they produce is healthier.
Nutrition Facts Labels are New and Improved
The Nutrition Facts label has appeared on packages in your local grocery store for over 20 years, serving as a guide to health-conscious consumers. The FDA has made changes in format and content to those labels in recent years.
The changes made include:
- Calorie and servings information is highlighted, as those are two of the most important elements in making healthy food choices
- Additional nutrients are listed. “Added Sugars” are now included on labels for the first time, both in grams and as a % Daily Value. We are now aware that exceeding 10% of your total daily calories via added sugars is considered unhealthy. This is information that is consistent with 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Besides Added Sugars, you will now find that potassium and Vitamin D are a required part of nutrition labels
- Serving sizes are now more in line with how people really eat, which means that the per serving information is more on point. This information now holds a more prominent place on the label, making it easier to find.
With these new changes to the nutrition label, food manufacturers often feel more inclined to make healthier choices in their recipes. The biggest change came back in 2006 when the FDA required trans-fat be shown on nutrition labels. This change led trans-fat levels to be drastically reduced, which also mean less added sugars.
New Labelling Takes the Mystery Out of Calorie Counting
It is estimated that roughly 1/3 of the calories that Americans consume via food and drink happens outside the home. With this in mind, it’s important that accurate nutrition information be made available everywhere. Restaurants now routinely show calorie counts on their menus, which includes fast food and takeout food chains. You may even find that movie theaters now show calorie counts with their food items.
The information shown usually includes the following:
- Calories from alcohol are not always shown, but food vendors are now routinely required to show that information on their menu
- Putting calorie information in context can be tough for consumers, which is why the new rule demands that the following message be placed on menus and menu boards: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” This same footnote appears on nutrition labels.
- You may also find that vending machines now post calorie counts for the foods sold there
Targeting a Salt Reduction in the Food Industry
Sodium is another big issue in the U.S. It is estimated that the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which amounts to 50% more than the recommended total. Processed and prepared food accounts for the majority of that total.
Sodium is shown on nutrition labels, but even if you are careful about reading the nutrition facts, it can still be tough to limit salt intake to 2,300 mg per day. This is because restaurant foods tend to be high in sodium.
There are some members of the food industry who have made steps to reduce sodium levels in food, but those levels are still way too high. The FDA has voluntary 2-year and 10-year programs in place to help manufacturers reduce sodium levels in their foods.