Darren Richardson

Little has changed on the Nutrition Facts labels that were introduced in 1993, but the American diet has. That’s one of the reasons the FDA says it’s time for an update to the familiar rectangular labels, which the FDA described as “one of the most recognized graphics in the world.”

The government agency charged with food safety and regulation is proposing two changes to the labels. One would update nutrition information “based on nutrition science” while also making changes to the label design. The other would cover changes to serving-size requirements and labeling for certain package sizes.

Both proposed changes are published in the Federal Register for a 90-day comment period. According to the FDA website, they can be found at www.regulations.gov. If the proposals become law, the food industry will have two years from the time they are published until compliance is required.

In announcing the proposed changes, the FDA noted that serving sizes have increased since 1993 and that the relationship between nutrients and the risk of chronic diseases is better understood.

"Obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases are leading public health problems," said Michael Landa, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "The proposed new label is intended to bring attention to calories and serving sizes, which are important in addressing these problems. Further, we are now proposing to require the listing of added sugars. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing calories from added sugars and solid fats."

What would change?

The most obvious difference would be an emphasis on calories, the FDA said, with that information being displayed in larger, bolder type. Additionally, a category for “added sugars” would be included, since Americans eat an average of 16 percent of their daily calories from sugars added during food production.

Other changes would include removal of Vitamin A and Vitamin C information, updates to the daily percentage values for such nutrients as fiber and calcium, and the removal of the “calories from fat” category.

"We know that the type of fat is more important than the total amount of fat," FDA health scientist Claudine Kavanaugh said. Labels would still list the total, saturated and trans fat content.

The serving-size information would also be larger and easier to read.

Purpose of proposed changes

The FDA stressed that it does not want to dictate to people what they should or should not be eating but does want to expand and highlight the information consumers have when making food choices. “It's all about providing information that people can use to make their own choices." Kavanaugh said.

Still, the FDA noted that people who are concerned about high blood pressure and strokes may want to read sodium and potassium amounts on food labels and those concerned with better cardiovascular health should seek foods lower in saturated fats, cholesterol, trans fats and sodium.