How Nurses can Help Patients Understand FDA Nutrition Labels

The nutrition facts label was introduced more than 20 years ago with the purpose of helping consumers eat healthier. Now, with an even bigger emphasis on health, the label is undergoing big changes.

Most large food manufacturers are required to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changes by July 2018, but companies who sell less than $10 million in products per year have been given until 2019 to adhere to the new rules.

The four major changes include:

  • Added sugars will be clearly labeled.
  • “Calories from fat” will be removed.
  • Serving sizes will be more realistic.
  • Common vitamins like A and C will be replaced with ones most Americans are typically deficient in, such as vitamin D.

In addition, on July 29, 2018, just three days after the deadline for implementation of the new nutrition facts label, the United States Department of Agriculture is expected to announce a decision on possible new rules for disclosing GMO ingredients on packaged goods.

Notable Nutrition Label Changes

Other than increased font size for some categories, the design of the label is not expected to change drastically. That said, some categories – calories, serving size, servings per container – are going to be emphasized more than others.

Susan Mayne, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, explained the reasoning behind the changes in an article for The Washington Post.

“The intention is not to tell consumers what to eat,” she told the Post, “but rather to make sure they have the tools and accurate information they need to choose foods that are right for themselves and their families.”

According to the Post, more than 77% of Americans said they use the nutrition facts label when shopping, which has companies worried the changes may make some of their products seem less appealing to customers.

The FDA has been working to update the label for more than two years. Highlighted below are some of the major changes to expect.

  • Larger font sizes – Calories and serving size(s) will appear in larger font and be displayed more prominently than the rest of the information on the label. The FDA hopes that doing so will help with the country’s growing obesity epidemic.
  • Serving sizes – Perhaps the most controversial update, serving size(s) will be more realistic by displaying what people currently eat, rather than what manufacturers think are reasonable. For example, serving sizes that were equivalent to a few potato chips might now reflect the whole package.
  • Vitamins – Vitamins A and C will no longer be required on labels because deficiencies in these vitamins are typically rare. However, vitamin D and potassium, which are already appearing on the labels, will now be required to include percent daily values and gram amounts. According to the FDA, deficiencies in these nutrients are common and can put people at a higher risk for chronic disease.
  • Percent daily value – The footnote at the bottom of the nutrition label will better explain the meaning of percent daily value. According to the FDA, the percent daily value determines how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet; 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
  • Added sugars – This is a completely new category that will be added to the labels in both grams and percent daily value. This change is expected to help consumers determine the difference between sugars added during processing versus natural sugars.
  • Sodium and dietary fiber – The percent daily value for these items will change for many foods due to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Institute of Medicine This doesn’t mean the manufacturer has changed the recipe of a type of food, just that the new recommendations have increased or decreased the amount you need to eat.
  • Calories from fat – Research has shown that the type of fat is more important than the amount of fat. Because of this data, the “calories from fat” line will be removed from labels. However, “total fat,” “saturated fat,” and “trans fat” will be listed.

What Do the Changes Mean for Nurses?

Healthy food choices are vital to preventing chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. While hospital nurses may focus more on the dietary concerns of patients recovering from illness, community nurses have an opportunity to focus on prevention.

Nurses working for schools or community centers can often provide nutritional education to the public to help prevent chronic conditions. For example, a nurse can educate patients how a high-sugar diet might contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

It is also important for nurses to understand proper nutrition as it relates to the recovery process. Nurses who work in hospitals and clinics are likely more concerned with nutrition as it relates to recovery from illness, surgery or other treatments.

These nurses can make a point to gather informative and accurate literature to educate patients before they are discharged. Healthy eating can go a long way after leaving the hospital, especially to help decrease rates of readmission.

A nurse’s knowledge of nutrition plays a key role in supporting their own health as well as serving as a good role model for their patients. While a dynamic schedule, long shifts and a stressful work environment may tempt nurses to make poor nutrition choices for the sake of convenience, exhibiting healthy eating habits can inspire patients to adopt those same habits.

A healthy, nutritious diet can also help alleviate stress and protect nurses from the diseases they encounter regularly because of their occupation, as well as help support physical improvements like better sleep, less inflammation and weight management.

Giving nurses and consumers a clearer picture of what they’re putting into their bodies can help them make wise dining choices. This could improve nutrition, and ultimately, promote overall wellness.



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