The New and Improved Nutrition Facts Label

Sometimes change takes place overnight.  More commonly, change is hard and seems to take forever. And sometimes we don’t notice a change until it affects us directly.  I’ve lived with chronic kidney disease for about 25 years now.  I’ve been reading nutritional labels at the grocery store for almost one half of my life!  But I hadn’t noticed the change in the Nutritional Facts Label until an update on this very subject came through on my newsfeed!

Slowly but surely the FDA has been implementing changes on the “Nutrition Facts” label we so commonly read on products at the grocery store!  In 2016, four years before the pandemic started, some big changes started happening on food labels!

For instance, the serving size had not been updated since 1993! Serving sizes now reflect how much people are actually eating (according to the FDA) and not “how much they’re supposed to be eating.” Obesity is becoming a “big” problem in the United States and the FDA labels are trying to communicate with consumers more openly.  Because serving sizes that are consumed are increasing, the label is reflecting this change.

This is important because if the serving size listed is ½ cup and you consume twice the amount – an entire cup – then you should be able to easily see that you are consuming twice the number of calories, fat, sodium, etc. than what was listed on the old label. This transparency may help consumers make better dietary choices. Since 2016, the FDA has mandated that the serving size be in a larger print than previous years. This is a big change that you may not have consciously noticed!

Here are changes you may not have noticed, that are more helpful in dietary decision making:

  • print of serving size in larger font (just mentioned above)
  • “added sugars” listed separately from sugars that naturally occur in foods like milk (lactose), fruit (fructose), etc.
  • specific nutrient listing
  • Vitamin D and Potassium are now required
  • Calcium and Iron will continue to be included on the label
  • Vitamin A and C are no longer required to be on the label because deficiency is deemed rare in the United State
  • Total Fat, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat will remain; however, “Calories from fat” has been removed because scientific research has shown that the TYPE of fat is more important than the amount

Science has shown eating lesser amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium may reduce your risk of chronic disease. And saturated fats and trans fats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease! Having chronic kidney disease is enough!  Who wants to add any more chronic illnesses?!?

The ingredient list format is unchanged: foods are listed in descending order by weight on the label (when more than one ingredient is included in the product).

Phosphorus is still not listed. The kidney community has been advocating for it.  I look at the ingredient list for words that sound like phosphate, such as phosphoric acid, sodium aluminum phosphate, pyrophosphate, polyphosphates, and calcium phosphate.

Dietary protein in our kidney diet varies greatly based on our stage of kidney disease and our laboratory results.  There is no “standard” daily allowance of protein required on the food label. As people living with kidney disease, regardless of our stage or treatment modality, we should be in contact with our renal dietitian for direction. Routinely check with your renal dietitian to see what their recommended daily allowance of dietary protein is for you.

Also, choose foods recommended by your renal dietitian that have an acceptable amount of dietary fiber, potassium, sodium, etc., based upon your specific needs and lab results.

As a post-transplant recipient, I consult with my renal dietitian regularly. My dietary protein is mostly plant based. I do everything I can to keep my 23-year-old transplanted kidney in good shape: living a healthy lifestyle, light exercise, keeping in close contact with my medical team, taking my meds as prescribed, and eating a healthy diet so I can continue enjoying life with my transplant.

Change is often slow, but it can be in a positive direction. Meanwhile, we can try to improve our lifestyles every day!  Don’t give up!!!  The update for the FDA labels didn’t happen overnight.  Manufacturers were given until 2022 to conform to the new label requirements!  Keep reading those food labels and look for the changes!

Here’s an example of the improved label:

FDA news about the label change: Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label | FDA

Web ID 8042

Cher-ThomasCher Thomas, RDHis a registered dental hygienist and a renal transplant recipient. After her kidneys failed due to ANCA positive vasculitis, in 1999 her brother became her kidney donor. Cher utilizes her experience with peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation to explore the relationship between oral and renal health. She lives in Galveston, Texas.

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