FDA Gives Nutrition Labels a Major Makeover

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The Food and Drug Administration has proposed big-time changes to nutrition labels. Most notably, the new labels will enlarge the font size of calorie counts and also change portion sizes to reflect the modern American diet.


"By law, the label information on serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they 'should' be eating," the FDA said in a statement.

These are the first label revisions since the FDA began requiring them 20 years ago. At the time, in the 1990s, the portion sizes were based on how people ate in the '70s and '80s.

"Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically," aid Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA. "It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today."

For example, the info on a 20 oz bottle of soda will indicate that the entire bottle is the intended serving size—as opposed to the 2.5 servings currently listed—so the calorie count and other info on the nutrition label will reflect what is in the entire bottle of soda instead of the amount of soda that people should be consuming.

Full list of changes:

  • How serving sizes are calculated and displayed
  • Enlarged calorie count.
  • Recommended daily allowance percentages will appear on the left side of the label instead of the right.
  • Some labels will require RDAs to feature "per serving" and "per package" amounts.
  • A new line about added sugars will be required beneath the total sugar amount.
  • Vitamin D and potassium counts will be required, while Vitamin A and Vitamin C counts will be optional.

The intention is that the nutrition information of a particular food item will be more easily understood.

The proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days and it will be months before any changes are actually seen on labels. The FDA will allow companies up to two years to institute the changes.



One thing I miss from living in New Zealand (also see:everything except the price tags) is that the labels there all have two columns of numbers, one for "per serving" and one for "per 100gm/ml" (you could translate that to American units for the sake of sticking to an absurd system of measurement). It's convenient for comparing products - some yoghurt says a serving is 1/4 cup and some says 3/4 - and also for adding context to claims such as zero fat ("Oh, this has no fat but quadruple the sugar and double the salt.")