Friday, September 11, 2015

The Down Low on Food Safety and How to Protect Yourself

As children, we can all remember mom telling us “wash your hands!” Washing our hands not only helps in preventing us from getting sick with a cold but also plays a major role in food safety and in preventing foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from consuming contaminated foods each year. So, practicing a few food safety techniques can help save you from many hours groaning in pain. What can you do you ask? Well, good food safety involves using techniques that include proper handling, preparation, and storage to help prevent the contamination of foods. 

Using these 4 easy steps can keep you and your family safe at home:
  1. Clean
    • Prior to preparing any food or eating, hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm running water. All utensils, cutting boards and surfaces you will be using need to be washed thoroughly. Fruits and vegetables can also be rinsed with water to remove any dirt or unseen bacteria that can possibly contaminate the food. Many people think they should rinse meat and poultry; however, they should not! This is because rinsing raw meat only increases the risk of cross contamination. Above all, wash anything that has been in contact with raw meat or poultry. 
  2. Separate 
    • Make sure to separate cooked meat from raw meat. Put cooked meat on a clean platter or plate to avoid cross contamination. Even cooked meat, if in contact with other raw foods can become contaminated again. Use separate plates, cutting boards and utensils for produce, raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Also you should keep raw items separated from others while shopping at the grocery store. 

  3. Cook
    • Be sure to cook all meat, poultry, seafood and eggs thoroughly. A food thermometer should be used to measure the internal temperature of the meat to make sure it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria. Many people think they can tell if a food is done simply by looking at it but there is no way to be sure it is safe without abiding by the safe minimum cooking temperature by using a food thermometer. 
Temperature (Fahrenheit)
Beef, pork, veal, lamb
Turkey, chicken
Steaks, roasts, chops
Fresh ham
Precooked ham
Cooked until yolk and white are firm
Fin fish
Leftovers and casseroles
    4.  Chill
    • After you are finished eating, items should be stored properly in air tight containers or bags and placed promptly in the refrigerator. Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate leftover foods if they are not going to be eaten within 4 hours. Frozen meats should be thawed in the refrigerator, never on the counter or in the sink. Foods that tend to spoil more quickly are fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and meats and should be refrigerated within 2 hours. Be cautious of mixed dishes that have these food items in them such as chicken Alfredo. The milk from the Alfredo sauce is a food that spoils more quickly, so the 2-hour rule should be followed.
Bottom line
  • Everybody is at risk to become infected with a foodborne illness- especially infants, young children, older adults and pregnant woman.
  • Contaminated foods MAY NOT look, smell, or taste funny so be sure to follow the 4 food safety steps.
  • Food poisoning symptoms can develop as quickly as 30 minutes or make take up to a few days before you notice any symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and abdominal cramping. 
  • Remember 1 in 6 Americans get sick each year from consuming contaminated food. That means if we were able to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness by 10%, it would prevent 5 million Americans from getting sick each year. 
  • Know when to throw food out!

Home Food Safety. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Sept 2015).CDC and Food Safety. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Sept 2015). 

~Jason Klemka MS, RD, LD/N

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Registered Dietitians Improve Childhood Obesity BMI Outcomes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents living in the United States. This percentage has tripled since just one generation ago. With all of the awareness and focus placed on Americans’ ever increasing rates of obesity it’s baffling to see that these numbers have yet to decrease.

A type of intervention that has been shown to work with obese children and adolescents are comprehensive weight management interventions. These include several components namely nutrition, physical activity and behavior modification strategies. One recent study examined two groups of children and adolescents in these programs with one group having a portion controlled diet and the other having a reduced glycemic load diet. Both groups were required to have at least one visit with a Registered Dietitian (RD), although some participants had more than just one visit.

The results from this study showed that the differences in diet between the two groups did not lead to any differences in their BMIs. However, what did make a difference for the participants was the number of visits that they had with a Registered Dietitian. With every additional visit with the RD the child’s odds of success increased by 28%. Furthermore, the probability of success was more than 78% with greater than 1 visit with a Registered Dietitian per month compared to 43% success rate in children who had minimal exposure to a Registered Dietitian.

Overall, this study showed that more frequent visits to see a Registered Dietitian improved BMI outcomes in obese children and adolescents regardless of the kind of dietary intervention they were on. Registered Dietitians are uniquely qualified to help combat these ever increasing rates of childhood obesity. If you or your child are struggling with obesity, get the help and support that an RD can provide today. You don’t have to do it alone, in fact you get better results with some help!

~Stefanie Rivera MS, RD, LD/N

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Overweight and Obesity. Accessed on 5/15/15. Available at:

Kirk Shelley, Woo Jessica G., Jones Margaret N., and Siegel Robert M.. Childhood Obesity. April 2015, 11(2): 202-208. doi:10.1089/chi.2014.0079.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Energy drinks and health risks… what’s all the buzz about?

The popularity of energy drinks has grown tremendously in the past decade. In the U.S. alone, sales of energy drinks have increased 10% every year between 2008 and 2012, with US sales estimated to be over $12.5 billion in 2012 (about $40 per person). Additionally, nearly 500 new brands hit the market worldwide in 2006 alone. There are certain segments of the population that are more likely to drink energy drinks; It is estimated that 30% of adults, 68% of adolescents and 18% of children below the age of 10 consume energy drinks. 

With this dramatic increase in caffeine consumption worldwide, attention has been drawn to how these high levels of caffeine can affect public health. International health authorities from the World Health Organization (WHO) have completed a review of research to see if energy drink consumption should be a concern. 

Risks associated with energy drink consumption

According to the WHO paper published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, they warn that caffeine intoxication (an actual diagnosis, according to the DSM-V) can lead to irregular heartbeat, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, nausea/vomiting, convulsions, psychosis, miscarriages and even death. Specifically, caffeine consumption in children and adolescents has been proven to negatively affect the cardiovascular and neurological systems and may lead to physical dependence and addiction. In adolescence, energy drink consumption is associated with greater risk for depression, sensation seeking, tobacco, binge drinking, and use of other harmful substances. Energy drinks are also commonly mixed with alcohol (over 70% of young adults who consume them, mix them with alcohol). The act of mixing alcohol and energy drinks is risky in itself, due to the combination of a suppressant and stimulant on the nervous system. It is also positively associated with other high-risk behaviors, such as marijuana use, sexual risk taking, illicit drug use, etc. 

Energy drinks vs. coffee/tea

You may be asking yourself, “why are health authorities concerned now? People have been drinking caffeine in coffee and tea for hundreds of years… what is the big deal with energy drinks?” There are several reasons why energy drinks pose a greater health risk than coffee or tea. First, the caffeine found in coffee and tea is self-limiting in nature; one or two cups of coffee gives you a pleasant caffeine high, however, drink five cups and you will feel sick to your stomach. Because of this self-limiting factor, it is very hard to get severe caffeine intoxication from naturally-occurring caffeine sources. Energy drinks, on the other hand, can be quickly consumed in large amounts and may not upset your stomach if you drink too much. Secondly, energy drinks may contain vastly more caffeine than coffee per serving; 1 oz of coffee contains approximately 20 mg caffeine, whereas some energy drinks contain more than 434 mg/oz (Energy Catalyst)… that’s over 20X more caffeine than coffee! Another reason energy drinks are of concern is due to lack of research examining the acute and long-term effects of the other ingredients contained in these drinks, such as guarana, glucuronolactone, B-vitamins, ginseng and taurine. Further research is still needed to determine additional health consequences of heavy and long-term energy drink consumption. 

WHO Policy Recommendations

In response to their findings, the World Health Organization outlined specific policy recommendations that would limit the harmful effects of energy drink consumption.

  1. Establish an Upper Limit (UL) for the amount of caffeine allowed in a single serving of any drink
  2. Restrict sales of energy drinks to children and adolescents due to potentially harmful adverse and developmental effects of caffeine on children
  3. Regulatory agencies (FDA) should enforce industry-wide standards for responsible marketing of energy drinks and ensure that the risks associated with energy drink consumption are well known

Bottom Line

If the U.S. is proactive on this issue, there will likely be an established UL for caffeine and there may even be age restrictions for purchasing energy drinks. For those of you who are coffee drinkers, you need not fear; while it is important to be aware of the negative health consequences of drinking too much caffeine, it’s also good to recognize that a moderate intake of caffeine can be healthy. Studies show that up to 400 mg (3-4 cups of coffee) of caffeine per day appears to be safe for most adults. And some studies show that a healthy level of caffeine may even provide additional health benefits, such as protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. It also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. So, as always, moderation is key!

- Ashley Hamm, MS, RD, LD/N


Breda JJ, Whiting SH, Encarnação R, Norberg S, Jones R, Reinap M and Jewell J (2014) Energy drink consumption in Europe: a review of the risks, adverse health effects, and policy options to respond. Front. Public Health 2:134. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00134

Caffeine Content of Drinks. Caffeine Informer Website. Accessed November 7, 2014. Available at:

Hensrud, D. Is coffee good or bad for me? Mayo Clinic Website. March 13, 2014. Accessed November 7, 2014. Available at:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

FDA Cracks Down on "Gluten-Free" Labeling

We are all familiar with the term “Gluten-free”. This term, which originally was used to describe foods that met the needs of those with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, has now become the foundation of one of the top trending diets of the decade... The “Gluten-Free Diet”. From 2011 to 2013 alone, the gluten-free craze has grown nearly 50% and is now a monstrous $10.5 billion industry. Everything from gluten-free flours and cereals to protein bars and frozen meals are taking up more and more shelf space each year. In fact, from 2012 to 2013 a whopping 1, 500 new gluten-free products hit the market. This is great for food manufacturers however, for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity it has actually become quite a challenge.

A strict gluten-free diet can be a matter of life or death for those with Celiac disease. Even small amounts of gluten can have negative effects on the health of individuals with this condition. So what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t it be easier now for those with Celiac disease because there are so many more products on the market? Not necessarily… and here is why. Prior to 2013, the FDA had no official definition or labeling standards for gluten-free products. Because of this, food manufacturers could market their products as “gluten-free”, even if they did contain gluten. By lacking tight regulations for gluten-free products, it became extremely difficult for those with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity to know which foods were safe for them to consume.

Thankfully, the FDA has recently taken action to address this issue. In a final ruling by the FDA, as of August 5th of 2014, all food products that manufactures wish to label as gluten-free must abide by the FDA’s official definition of gluten-free.

The FDA has defined gluten-free foods as those that do not naturally contain gluten (such as water) or does not contain an ingredient that is:
  • a gluten-containing grain (wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains)
  • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  • an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten 

In addition to this definition, the unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm. This level is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools. Also, most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten without having adverse effects.

While it is huge step in the right direction for those with Celiac or gluten sensitivities, it is important to know that not ALL products on the market have to follow these regulations. The foods that must follow these rules include all FDA-regulated packaged food that are voluntarily labeled as “gluten-free”, “free of gluten” and “no gluten”. However, the rules do not apply to the following products:
  • Products that do not wish to voluntarily include a claim regarding gluten content
  • Products regulated by the USDA  - meats, poultry, and certain egg products  (FDA regulates the labeling of shell eggs)
  • Products regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) - distilled spirits, wines that contain 7 percent or more alcohol by volume, and malted beverages that are made with both malted barley and hops
  • Non-packaged foods sold in restaurants

Although the FDA gluten-free labeling rules do not apply to non-packaged foods, such as most food from restaurants, the FDA does encourage restaurants that make a gluten-free claim on their menus to be consistent with the FDA’s definition. Given the public health significance of “gluten-free” labeling, restaurants would benefit greatly by adapting the FDA’s gluten-free definition. By serving truly gluten-free menu option, restaurants would gain the trust (and $) of many Americans. 

So what does this new gluten-free labeling rule mean for you? If you have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can take deep breath and relax; while you may still have to be careful when you eat out or purchase alcoholic beverages, you can trust that the packaged “gluten-free” products you’re purchasing are now guaranteed to be safe for you to eat!

Web Sources available at:

~Ashley Hamm, MS, RD 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gluten-Free Diet: The Truth Behind the Trend

A diet void of wheat, rye, barley (and oats only occasionally)… The Gluten-Free Diet seems to be all the rage these days. What began as a simple treatment for an autoimmune disease has now become one of the most well-known diets in America. Not surprisingly, it has also become a food market goldmine, with GF sales expected to exceed over $5 billion by 2015. We’ve all heard the hype about how gluten-free foods are overall better for you, can help you lose weight, sleep better, give you more energy, clear up your acne and even improve medical conditions such as autism and rheumatoid arthritis. It can be difficult to sift through the mounds of messages that the media and food manufacturers have put forth touting the many health benefits of eliminating gluten from your diet. But is there any truth behind these claims? And if so, are they really worth eliminating some of the most delicious foods in your diet and dishing out extra money for gluten-free foods? Read on to discover the truth about gluten and whether or not you can benefit from a gluten-free diet.

What is gluten? 
It’s a protein composite of gliadin and glutenin found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Functionally, it helps food maintain its shape and gives dough elasticity and chewiness. It is also used as a thickener for many foods.

Who should avoid gluten?
In short, anyone who has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease (CD) or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) should avoid gluten. CD is a genetic, autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. This causes malabsorption of almost all nutrients and can lead to very serious health consequences, such as weight loss, slowed growth and even death in severe cases. CD can be diagnosed by a combination of a blood test checking for antibodies to gluten and small bowel biopsy looking for damage to the intestinal cells. It is estimated that 1 in every 105 people in the US have CD.

A much less severe but more common condition related to gluten is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). Current estimations indicate a 3-6% prevalence of NCGS in the US. While there is no definitive way of diagnosing NCGS, it is recognized by symptoms similar to those of celiac disease that improve when gluten is eliminated from the diet. Individuals with NCGS would not produce the same antibodies or have the intestinal damage as seen in CD. Some of the symptoms caused by NCGS include stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, extreme tiredness, “foggy mind” and bone/joint pain. Since there is no blood test for gluten sensitivity, the only way to be diagnosed is to undergo the screening and diagnostic tests required to confirm celiac disease. A diagnosis of gluten sensitivity is confirmed when/if the celiac disease or wheat allergy test are negative, and your symptoms diminish after starting a gluten-free diet, followed by a return of symptoms when gluten is reintroduced into your diet. There is no cure for gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, and the only treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet.

Those with a wheat allergy may also benefit from a gluten-free diet, because it is free of wheat. It is important to note, however, that this is an adverse immunologic reaction to wheat, NOT gluten. Wheat is the 8th most common food allergen in the US, and is more common among children than adults. Immediate symptoms of wheat allergy include: hives, airway obstruction, nausea, or gastrointestinal complaints. Delayed reaction may present 24 hours after ingestion with gastrointestinal complaints, itching and rash.

Gluten-Free for weight loss?
According to a reputable review article posted in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there is no evidence suggesting that a gluten-free diet produces weight loss in people with or without CD or NCGS. In fact, for overweight or obese patients with CD, body weight may increase on a gluten-free diet. This is likely due to the fact that some gluten-free products have greater energy value than corresponding gluten-containing foods. Also, a gluten-free diet may lack whole grains and fiber, both of which have been shown to be associated with healthy weights.

Gluten-free for other health benefits? 
A commonly held belief among Americans is that gluten-free foods can improve gastrointestinal health. Data, however, suggest that this is not true. Naturally occurring starches in wheat, such as oligofructose and inulin, are beneficial for creating a healthy composition of gut bacteria. These “good” gut bacteria are known to have protective effects for some cancers, inflammatory conditions and cardiovascular disease. Recent evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet may lead to reductions in “good” gut bacteria and vice-versa… that increasing whole-grain wheat intake has been reported to increase “good” gut bacteria. This data supports the well-established, inverse relationship between whole-grain food intake and risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed the potential benefits of gluten for improving blood lipid levels, and another article published in 2011 suggests that gluten may help control blood pressure. Other research studies indicate the potential role of gluten in boosting the immune system.

Bottom Line:
GF diet is clearly indicated for CD and NCGS
No evidence to suggest that following a GF diet has any significant benefits in the general population
Going gluten-free for purposes of weight loss may have unintended consequences
No data to support a weight loss claim for a gluten-free diet

~ Ashley Hamm, MS, RD


Catassi C, Bai JC, Bonaz B, Bouma G, Calabrò A, Carroccio A, Castillejo G, Ciacci C, Cristofori F, Dolinsek J, Francavilla R, Elli L, Green P, Holtmeier W, Koehler P, Koletzko S, Meinhold C, Sanders D, Schumann M, Schuppan D, Ullrich R, Vécsei A, Volta U, Zevallos V, Sapone A, Fasano A. Non-Celiac Gluten sensitivity: the new frontier of gluten related disorders. Nutrients. 2013; 5(10):3839-53.

Glenn AG, Siddhartha SA. Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(9):1330-1333 

Marcason, W. Is there evidence to support the claim that a gluten-free diet should be used for weight loss?. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011; 111: 1786

 Maureen ML, Brintha V. US perspective on gluten-related diseases. Clinical and Experimenal Gastroenterology. 2014(7):25-37. 

Rubino J. 7 gluten-free statistics you need to know. New Hope Website. Accessed Sept 15, 2014. Updated May 20, 2013. Available at:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Functional Food For Thought

You may have heard the term functional foods used loosely before to describe foods that either naturally or artificially contain nutrients that offer some type of health benefit to the consumer. Magazine articles, internet websites, and news reports tout the benefits of eating these foods, which they claim can do everything from reduce cholesterol to prevent conditions like heart disease or cancer. Even on a simple trip to the grocery store, you can find yourself bombarded with health claims on food packages, such as those on cereal boxes, nut butters and yogurts, proclaiming why their food is best for your health. The functional food craze has become so popular that the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) wanted to investigate… They gathered data from a multitude of industry resources following trends of functional foods in America, and published their findings in “The top 10 functional food trends for 2014”. You may be thinking, “wait slow down… food that has a function? What does that even mean”? Let me backtrack...

First of all, it is important to point out that ALL foods have a physiological “function”. Put simply, proteins are important for muscle repair, fats and carbohydrates for energy, and vitamins and minerals for cell function.

In an effort to distinguish foods that have a potentially positive effect on health, beyond basic nutrition, from foods that do not offer this health benefit, Japan created a food class termed functional food in the 1980s. Here in the U.S., we do not have an official class for, nor have we adopted a legal definition for these foods. Nevertheless, functional foods still have a major presence in America, likely because people are becoming more aware of the impact that food has on their health.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as “a food that provides additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote good health”. 

Seems broad, right? That’s because it is. According to this definition, oatmeal is a functional food because it has soluble fiber which can help lower cholesterol, and calcium-fortified orange juice is a functional food because it contains calcium which promotes bone health. 

While all foods contain nutrients that have a function in our bodies, functional foods are ones that have an additional benefit to our health. Typically, the ideal way for people to get their nutrients is through foods that naturally contain health-promoting ingredients… these foods are called “conventional” functional foods, and include foods  such as whole grains, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

So now that we’ve covered the basics on what functional foods are, let’s dive into what’s trending in America. According to the IFT Insights article, the Top 10 Functional Foods Trends for 2014 include the following:

  1. Specialty Nutritionals: Consumers are seeking more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals including more fish/oil/omega-3s. 
  2. Get Real: Consumers are looking for foods that are simple, real, natural, and free of artificial ingredients.
  3. Hispanic Health:  Hispanics are the #1 users of energy drinks, sports beverages and 100% juice. Hispanics are 2x more likely than the general population to spend whatever it takes to look younger and are often the first to try a new health food, nutritional product or diet.
  4. The Protein Evolution:  Consumers are seeking more protein to maintain healthy bones, strengthen immune systems, and build muscle strength while maintaining energy throughout the day.
  5. Kid-Specific: Moms are looking for a wider range of healthy, convenient, kid-friendly foods and drinks with nutrient and calorie levels specific to kids.
  6. Pharma Foods: The majority believe functional foods can help prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and Type 2 Diabetes
  7. Alternatives: Many are seeking alternatives such as meatless meals for dinner on occasion; eggs are the most popular alternative followed by beans/lentils/legumes. Also, dairy-free milks including soy, rice and almond milk are increasing in popularity.
  8. Performance Nutrition: Sports nutrition category targets not only athletes and body builders but recreational sports participants, casual athletes and gym exercisers. 
  9. Weighing In: Consumers are avoiding the deprivation-style weight loss campaigns and instead simply eat healthier while adding specific real food components and nutrients to their diet. 
  10. Gen Zen: Today’s millennials between the ages of 14 and 33 view their food choices as healthier, more expensive, more natural and organic, less processed, better tasting and fresh. Millennials are also the most likely to believe that functional foods can be used in place of some medicines to relieve tiredness, lack of energy, retain mental sharpness with aging, reduce stress, and improve eye health. 

Can you relate to any of these functional food trends? My guess is that many of us are already buying into the functional food trends without even realizing! Health is important, and so is the food we eat. Choosing functional foods, especially the “conventional” functional foods that naturally contain health-promoting nutrients, is a great way to maximize your nutrition and live a healthy life. 

~Ashley Hamm


1. Denny, S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. What are functional foods? April 2013. Accessed May 29, 2014. Available at

2. Sloan, E. Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) website. The Top 10 Functional Foods Trends. Food Technology. 2014:64(4). Accessed April 29, 2014. Available at 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What Are the Facts on the New Nutrition Facts Label?

Picture a common scenario: standing in the grocery store, trying to decide between two food products—what do you do? If you’re like most consumers, you probably turn the package over to examine the Nutrition Facts label and base your decision on calorie or fat content (or, if you’re like me, you discard both options and head for the dessert aisle instead).  The Nutrition Facts label, found on most food packages in the US, serves as a guide to help consumers make informed food choices and practice healthy dietary habits. However, it can be incredibly hard to understand! If you’ve ever argued with yourself in the middle of the store trying to decode the label (and scared a Publix employee in the process), you’ll be happy to know that it is about to get a major facelift.

Why the sudden fuss over this image that we’ve come to accept as an unavoidable component of food packaging? For starters, the current label, introduced more than 20 years ago, does not reflect the current food environment of the average consumer.  In other words, the serving sizes shown on the current labels are no longer relevant to the dietary habits of today’s society. The proposed changes take people's actual eating behavior into account and the new label aims to provide a greater understanding of nutrition science with a refreshed design that is easier to read.

What Exactly are the Changes?

 Greater Understanding of Nutrition Science 
  •  The new labels require information about “added sugars,” which can decrease the intake of nutrient-rich foods while increasing calorie intake.
  •  Updated daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D will be included on the label to help consumers understand the nutrient information in the context of a total daily diet.
  •  Manufacturers will be required to state the amount of potassium and vitamin D on the label, because they are considered “nutrients of public health significance.”
  •  The term “calories from fat” will be removed, because research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount.

      Updated Serving Size Requirements and New Labeling Requirements for Certain Package Sizes
  •  Serving sizes will reflect how consumers eat and drink today. The label information must be based on what people actually eat.
  •  Packaged food and drinks that are typically eaten in one sitting, such as a 20-oz soda, must be labeled as a single serving with calorie and nutrient information to reflect the entire package.
  •  For certain packages that are larger and could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers must provide “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calories and nutrient information—for example, a 24-oz soda or a pint of ice cream.

      Refreshed Design
  •  Calories and serving sizes will be more prominent in order to emphasize parts of the label that are more important for public health.
  •  The Percent Daily Value will be on the left of the label so that it is read first.
  •  The label footnote will be changed to more clearly explain the meaning of the Percent Daily Value. 

The Next Step

Will the new Nutrition Facts label really be that much more helpful than the current one? Results from a recent Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research (GICR) study suggest so. In an attempt to investigate how helpful the current and the proposed new labels are to consumers, the researchers presented 830 participants with various items and asked them how healthy they perceived each to be. The items—a 20 oz bottle of soda, a frozen pizza, and an 8-oz bag of chips—were accompanied by either the current Nutrition Facts label, the proposed label, or an alternate proposed label. Consumers were randomly assigned to view one type of label. In addition, the label information was presented for either 10 seconds (to mimic an in-store viewing) or for an unlimited amount of time. The results suggest that the proposed labels were more helpful than the current label when given a brief, 10-second timeframe. This rapid encounter reflects the amount of time that a consumer would realistically spend looking at labels while shopping—hence, the proposed labels could make eating healthier an easier task for shoppers.

Of course, as with any change in consumer products, new information warrants a need for education on the label changes. What do you think of the proposed label changes? Will it be easier for consumers to make healthy choices at the grocery store? Or, has the FDA uncovered a whole new set of problems? No matter what your feelings are on the issue, you won’t see these changes until at least August 1st, 2014.

~Jenna Norris

  • MacMunn A, O’Malley R. As Advocates for Improvements on Food Labels, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Supports FDA's Proposed Label Changes, Calls for Nutrition Education for Consumers. AND web site. Available at: Published February 27, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2014.
  • Proposed Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. FDA web site. Available at: Published May 2014. Accessed May 23, 2014.
  • Hennessy M. Proposed Nutrition Labels More Effective Than Current Labels: Survey. Food Navigator web site. Available at: Published May 22, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2014.