Earlier this year, the FDA announced its plans to change the 20-year old nutrition facts panel that appears on food products. The change reflects changes in nutrition science and a better understanding of consumer behavior. We analyzed the announcement back then, but wanted to hone in on the issue of serving sizes today.
A cornerstone of any nutrition label is the serving size. All the nutrition numbers provided on the panel are based on the serving size. For any product, a serving of 2 ounces will obviously have different nutrition values compared to a 4-ounce serving.
The serving size is determined based on the standard portion size people are eating. How does the FDA know the portion sizes for cookies, ice cream, pasta, or bread? Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys conducted in the Seventies and Eighties provided reference values that have become the standard for the FDA, manufacturers, and the dietitian community. these values are called Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC).
The problem with the RACCs is that for many food categories the RACCs no longer represent the amount people actually consume. As part of the nutrition label overhaul, the FDA is updating RACCs for 27 of 158 food categories.
For example, the serving size is no longer 1/2 a cup, rather 1 cup. This means that the number of calories per serving will now be twice as high for a serving! Obviously the ice cream manufacturers are upset, but you shouldn’t be, because if you are an average American, you will now have a more accurate count of the calories you actually consume.
Another area that the FDA is tackling is single serve food products that trick consumers by showing nutrition information for a single serving very well knowing the people eat the entire package of 2 or more servings in one sitting. Prominent examples include soups and soft drinks.
Going forward, all packages containing between 150% and 200% of the RACCs will no longer be labeled as more than one serving. A 15-ounce can of soup will no longer count as 2 servings.
If a larger product package can be consumed in either one sitting or in multiple sittings, it will require 2 columns of information: the first – per serving, and the second – per package. Dual column labeling will be required if a package contained at least 200% of the RACC and less than or equal to 400% of the RACC.
You can read more about the proposed change here.
These changes have not been implemented yet. The FDA is currently reviewing feedback from industry and the public. It may take up to 3 years for the new labels to appear on your local grocery shelf. In the meantime, if you are counting calories, make sure that the amount you are eating matches your expectations.
Do you look at the serving size when reading nutrition labels?