Nutrition-wise blog

New food labels: Calories and serving sizes to change

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. May 9, 2014

For the first time in 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing changes to food labels. The goal is to help consumers achieve healthy diets by providing updated nutrition information based on current knowledge about the associations between nutrients and chronic diseases or public health-related conditions in the U.S., as well as current information on consumer behavior and consumption patterns.

The new label also will:

  • Update the list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be listed.
  • Use updated daily reference values and reference daily intake values.
  • Use up-to-date serving sizes.

Undoubtedly the new food label will be the topic of many future blogs, but this one is focused on calories and serving sizes.

A significant number of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) and children and teens (17 percent) are considered obese. This is directly related to the type and amount of food Americans consume and their level of physical inactivity.

This has compelled reevaluation of the rules for serving sizes shown on labels so that the calories and nutrients in one serving can help consumers make informed healthy decisions.

Existing regulations state that the label information must be based on amounts of food commonly consumed by the American public. So, it's being proposed that since Americans now eat more, the serving size on the label should be increased, as well as the resulting calories and nutrients.

The FDA is also proposing that packages that contain multiple servings use a two-column label. One column would show the calories and nutrients for one serving, while and the other column would show the same information for the entire package.

Will this be helpful? Perhaps.

Let me give you a practical example that happened this week. I opened a boxed lunch that was supposed to be no more than 800 calories. It contained a sandwich, chips and a cookie. Taking a closer look, I saw that the chips and cookie were each 2 servings. That got me thinking. I calculated that the sandwich had about 500 calories. One serving of chips (half the bag) was 150 calories, and one serving of the cookie (again, half the cookies) was 150 calories too. So if I ate the sandwich, half the chips and half the cookie, the lunch would be about 800 calories. However, if I ate the whole lunch, as most people would, the total would go up to 1,100 calories.

This made me wonder. Will consumers assume that the one serving amount that is listed on the label is the recommended amount that they should eat? On the other hand, if consumers see the entire calories in a multi-serving package might that be helpful if they intentionally — or unintentionally — eat the entire package?

What are your thoughts? Should the new rules determining for one serving be increased because we are eating more? Do you think that it will be helpful to know the total number of calories in packages containing multiple servings?

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May. 09, 2014