Nutrition Labeling

Dietary Fiber

As part of its suggested changes on nutrition labeling, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised its definition for dietary fiber. The Agency classified fewer ingredients as dietary fiber, but made clear it would undertake a scientific review of 25 additional ingredients to determine their proper classification. In June 2018, FDA announced their intent to permit the use of eight additional dietary fiber ingredients under their revised definition of dietary fiber. These additional ingredients include: arabinoxylan, alginate, galactooligosaccharide, high amylose starch (resistant 2 starch), inulin and inulin-type fructans, mixed plant cell wall fibers, polydextrose, and resistant maltodextrin/dextrin. Alongside the announcement, then FDA Commissioner Gottlieb noted that FDA is “taking a flexible approach to dietary fiber, allowing for the possibility of additional fibers to be added to the list of those meeting our dietary fiber definition if the scientific evidence shows they are physiologically beneficial.” Since 2018, FDA has approved three more ingredients as dietary fibers, including cross-linked phosphorylated RS4 (March 2019), glucomannan (January 2020), and acacia (gum arabic) (December 2021).

Along with revising the definition for dietary fiber, the FDA also increased the Daily Reference Value (DRV) for dietary fiber from 25 grams to 28 grams. The DRV is used to calculate % Daily Values seen on Nutrition and Supplement labels. However, many Americans already struggle to consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber each day. The decision by the FDA to reclassify and reduce the number of permitted dietary fibers has the potential to increase this fiber gap. CRA is hopeful that the recognition of additional dietary fiber ingredients will assist consumers in reaching their dietary fiber goals, and appreciates FDA’s review of petitions for potential dietary fiber ingredients.

Added Sugars

With their final rule on nutrition labeling, which went into effect for large companies on January 1, 2020, the FDA mandated the labeling of added sugars on products. This decision comes despite the consensus of U.S. scientific evidence finds that calories from sugars – whether added or naturally-occurring – are the same when it comes to the number of calories they contain, the way the body metabolizes them, and their contribution to body weight compared to other sources of calories. CRA believes it may be more relevant to look at total sugars and carbohydrates as related to overall dietary patterns instead of primarily focusing on added sugars.

Of course, CRA recognizes that many Americans need to reduce their total intake of calories, including calories from sugars and sweeteners, thus CRA does not promote increased consumption of sugars or other caloric sources.

Consumer Perception Research

In December 2018, CRA commissioned a consumer perception survey by Jayson Lusk, Ph.D., Purdue University, regarding consumer understanding of product labeling claims such as “healthy” and “natural,” as well as ingredient names. The results of the nationwide survey of 1,290 respondents was weighted to be representative of the U.S. population.

Results of the survey demonstrated that consumers beliefs about claims such as “healthy” and “natural” are not reflected in what these terms are recognized to mean by federal agencies such as the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This indicates that there is likely immense consumer misunderstanding and confusion about these claims when seen on products. Government regulation is meant to ensure that food labels are not false or misleading. Therefore, it seems reasonable that such terms should reflect what consumers think these terms mean.

CRA has shared the report of the consumer survey with FDA and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). In sharing the report, CRA made three policy recommendations, including:

  • FDA should undertake rulemaking to revise the requirements for “healthy” claims to be more restrictive and ensure a high level of sugars would be a disqualifier for using the claim. Additionally, an accompanying statement on what the claim means should be required.
  • Along with FSIS, FDA should initiate rulemaking to adopt a coordinated approach to the regulation of “natural” claims that would result in a restrictive definition limited to “wash/clean/chop/grind/slice” of raw commodities. Additionally, to limit consumer confusion, an accompanying statement should be required to state that “natural” does not necessarily mean “healthier, safer or better for the environment.”
  • FDA should initiate rulemaking to permit use of consumer-understood common names of food ingredients in the ingredient definition.

The report of the consumer perception survey can be found here. Raw data of the consumer perception survey can be provided upon request.