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FDA’s Proposal to Update Nutrition Facts label

By Emily Roberts

For nutrition professionals, deciphering the Nutrition Facts labels on food packages may be second nature. However, for the general public it is often difficult to understand and interpret this information. The FDA took this into consideration when proposing new requirements for Nutrition Facts labels in 2014 (1). Two main changes were proposed: new information on labels as well as design changes and new serving and package size requirements (2). The appearance of the label will be quite different if they are accepted.

This is of course to be the biggest change since 1993. The only alteration in the past 20 years has been the requirement of the amount of trans fat to the label in 2006 (1). This month the FDA proposed two more changes to the label. The one getting the most attention is the percent daily value of added sugars.

The most notable changes issued in March 2014 were (1):
• increased font size of calories
• changing of serving size requirements
• placement and update of percent daily value
• including added sugars
• removing calories from fat
• including the gram amount of micronutrients
• including vitamin d and potassium
• making vitamin C and vitamin A voluntary

As of this July 2015, two new changes were proposed (1):
• require the percent daily value of added sugars
• change the footnote to help consumers understand daily values

What are considered added sugars?
Simply stated added sugars are not naturally occurring and are added to the product. ChooseMyPlate says they are sugars that are added when processed or prepared. USDA lists some common sources of added sugars seen on ingredient lists including corn syrup, honey, fructose and lactose. However, for many manufactures this can be quite difficult to quantify because fructose and lactose are naturally occurring in fruits and milk. Yet, when they are added during processing they are now considered an “added sugar”. The current requirements from the FDA states in The Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (101.60 c) that manufactures can use the claim “No added sugars” if “no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient is added during processing” (3).

Why does the FDA want percent daily value of added sugars?
Currently, there is no percent daily value of sugars because the FDA recommends that consumers limit their sugar intake to as low as possible. Things changed this month when the FDA argued that the percent daily value helps consumers understand how much is too much added sugars. Added sugars provide no nutrient value, increase caloric intake and replace nutrient dense foods. Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, argued this change will help consumers reduce their intake of added sugars (4).

How much is too much of added sugars?
FDA recommends that daily intake of added sugars should not exceed 10% of total calories (1). If you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet you can easily exceed this 10% mark by consuming one 20 fl oz Minute Maid Lemonade.

How are food manufacturers reacting?
Food companies argue that including added sugars and a percent daily value could be misleading because the body utilizes added sugars the same as natural sugars and question the amount and quality of scientific evidence the FDA used to support their new proposal. Manufacturers claim that nutrition information seldom alters consumer’s food intake, so these changes would be more costly than they would be beneficial (5).

When can the public see these new changes?
The two new proposed changes will go through a comment period before they are accepted.

References
1. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm#supplemental
2. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm387533.htm
3. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm
4. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/07/24/425908798/no-more-hidden-sugar-fda-proposes-new-label-rule
5. http://www.wsj.com/articles/fda-proposes-listing-added-sugar-on-food-labels-1437774370
6. http://www.natlawreview.com/article/calorie-count-delay-fda-extends-compliance-date-menu-labeling-rules
7. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories/added-sugars.html
8. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm
9. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=101.9
10. http://www.minutemaid.com/content/minutemaid/en/home/products/lemonade/lem

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Interpreting Food Labels: Natural versus Organic

By Joyanna Hansen

Consumers navigating grocery store aisles have many choices, and food labels are one way in which food manufacturers compete for attention. The label “all natural” or “100% natural” can be found on diverse food products ranging from peanut butter and cereal to “all natural” sodas, and may bring to mind images of wholesome, minimally processed foods. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responsible for regulating and supervising food production, does not define or regulate use of the label “natural” on food products. Instead, the FDA official policy is that “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances,” (1) an ambiguous policy that leaves interpretation of “natural” largely up to the food industry.

Without a formal definition of what “natural” means, let’s examine what this label does not mean. First of all, foods containing natural flavors, sweeteners, or other plant-derived substances can be labeled natural. In addition, foods containing highly processed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can also be labeled “natural”, since the synthetic materials used to generate HFCS are not incorporated into the final product (2). Finally, foods containing genetically engineered or modified ingredients can be labeled “natural,” something California’s recently defeated Proposition 37 tried to prevent (3). Although far from an exhaustive list of what can be labeled a “natural” food, these are a few examples of how “natural” may mean something different than consumers think.

In contrast to the FDA, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does regulate use of the word “natural” when applied to meat, poultry, and eggs, stating that a “natural” food is “a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed” (4). Although consumers purchasing “natural” meat, poultry, and eggs can be confident that there are no artificial ingredients or colors added, it’s important to note that “natural” does not necessarily mean hormone-free or antibiotic-free; these are separate labels, also regulated by the USDA.

Unlike “natural,” which has no clear definition, use of the “organic” food label and seal is strictly regulated by the National Organic Program, which is administered through the USDA. Foods with an organic seal are certified organic and contain at least 95% organic content (5). Organic food is produced using approved organic farming methods “that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Specifically, “synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used” to produce organic food, meaning that organic food products are not genetically modified and have not been treated with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers (5).

Unless the FDA adopts a stricter definition of “natural,” consumers trying to make informed decisions should be wary of the “natural” food label and pay close attention to ingredient lists, or choose organic foods that have been produced through a closely regulated process.

References
1.    What is the meaning of ‘natural’ on the label of food? FDA.gov. Retrieved Feb. 7, 2013 from http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm214868.htm.
2.    Crowley, L. (2008, July 8). HFCS is natural, says FDA in a letter. Foodnavigator-usa.com. Retrieved Feb. 7, 2013 from http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Business/HFCS-is-natural-says-FDA-in-a-letter
3.    Sifferlin, A. (2012, Nov. 7). California Fails to Pass GM Foods Labeling Initiative. TIME.com. Retrieved Feb. 8, 2013
4.    Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms (last modified April 12, 2011). USDA.gov. Retrieved Feb. 8, 2013 from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FACTSheets/Meat_&_Poultry_Labeling_Terms/index.asp#14.
5.    National Organic Program (last modified Oct. 17, 2012). USA.gov. Retrieved Feb. 8, 2013.