5 Things Pharmacists Should Know About New Nutrition Facts Labeling

For the first time in 20 years, the FDA has made changes to the requirements for nutrition facts labels.

For the first time in 20 years, the FDA has made changes to the requirements for nutrition facts labels, which will largely take effect by July 2018.

It’s important for pharmacists to educate patients on the proper use of nutrition facts. Although the new label will still be recognizable to patients, here are 5 questions you should be prepared to answer.

1. Why are nutrition labels are changing?

Changes to nutrition labeling are overdue, as the previous requirements were set forth in 1990 under the Nutrition and Labeling Education Act and took effect in 1995. Since then, there have been updates to dietary recommendations, including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and advanced research on public health and nutrition.

To improve the health of Americans and help prevent chronic health problems, the new labeling should reflect these updates, as well as be easy for consumers to read and make healthy choices.

2. What are the new labels going to look like?

The new nutrition facts will generally look the same as before, but they’ll be easier for consumers to interpret. Some major changes are:

· Increased font size of “Calories”

· Bold serving size

· Highlighted servings per container

· Amount in grams + % Daily Value (DV) for all items

The new format also requires a clearer statement about %DV, which “tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet.” On current labeling, %DV isn’t defined; it only states that it’s based on a 2000-calorie diet.

Additionally, a few items are being removed from the label, including calories from fat, vitamin A, and vitamin C; meanwhile, vitamin D and potassium are being added. When the original label requirements were put in place, many Americans’ diets were deficient in vitamins A and C, but that isn’t the case anymore. However, many Americans don’t get enough vitamin D and potassium from their diet, so those items have been added.

Finally, for products considered to be more than 1 serving but that could be consumed in 1 sitting (the FDA cites a pint of ice cream as an example), manufacturers are required to have dual columns on the label, giving nutrient and %DV information for both the “per serving” and “per package” sizes, so that consumers can make an educated choice about serving size.

3. What’s the big deal with added sugars?

On previous labeling, manufacturers were only required to report sugars, but with the new labeling, they’ll be required to report both total sugar and added sugar. This change came about because of recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In them, the Department of Health and Human Services recommend consuming <10% of calories per day from added sugars, because if >10% of calories come from added sugars, it’s unlikely that an individual will meet the other dietary requirements, including vitamins and fiber.

4. What about trans-fat?

Trans-fat found in partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) has long been linked to increased risk of heart disease. For this reason, FDA no longer generally recognizes it as safe, and as a result, most PHOs have been phased out of foods.

So, why are they still required on the new nutrition labeling?

Previously, PHOs were mostly found in processed foods, including frozen foods, baked goods, and margarine. Their manufacturers were required to remove trans-fat rather than just including the PHOs on the ingredient list and the amount of trans-fat on the nutrition facts. However, there are some foods like some meats and dairy products that consumers should be aware of when making nutritional choices.

5. Why would the FDA make some serving sizes larger?

Possibly the biggest change to the nutrition facts labeling is the serving sizes, which will be increasing for some foods. Manufacturers must now assign a serving size based on the amount of food an individual usually consumes in 1 sitting, whereas the serving size was previously based on a suggestion of how much an individual should consume in 1 serving.

For ice cream, for instance, the previous suggested serving size was ½ cup, but it’s increasing to 2/3 cup because most individuals would have more than a ½ cup in 1 sitting but only consider the nutrition facts for 1 serving. On the other hand, some serving sizes will be decreasing. Yogurt, for instance, will be decreasing from 8 oz to 6 oz.

This is an important change for those tracking calories or other nutrients, especially if they aren’t necessarily measuring their portions with each serving. Now, the nutrition facts will more accurately reflect what they’re consuming, rather than what the manufacturer has determined they should eat.

The FDA has given most manufacturers until July 26, 2018, to comply with these new labeling requirements, but smaller companies will have until 2019 to comply. Some of you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with pharmacy?” Well, pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals, and we need to have the knowledge to educate our patients on healthy lifestyles that can affect their overall health.