Improved Food Regulations on Dietary Fats
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Woman reading food label

Food regulations and policies have impact not only on information available to consumers when making food purchase decisions, but also in food communications and advertising and as motivation to the food industry to reformulate products to be more nutritious. As food regulations are always evolving, dietitians and all nutrition and health professionals must stay apprised of changes to best advise consumers. Here are current updates on food regulations and policies.

 Advertising to Children. Under the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), 18 of the largest food and beverage and foodservice companies voluntarily agree to specific nutrition criteria around which individual foods can be advertised to children under age 12. The goal is to use advertising to help promote healthy dietary and lifestyle choices among American children. The initiative started in 2006, was expanded in 2009 to include social and digital media, and in 2011, category-specific nutrition criteria for foods that can be advertised to children were revised. With the release of the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) upcoming updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel, the 2011 criteria have recently been reviewed and updated. As a part of this process, the USDA’s Smart Snacks standards, regulations on the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and certain third-party nutrition standards were also reviewed.

Under the newly revised criteria, limits for added sugar have been added, key food categories have stricter sodium and added sugars limits, and positive nutrition requirements have been strengthened. Saturated fat levels in general have been lowered, typically to no more than 10 percent of calories from this fat type, depending on the food category. Trans fat continues at zero grams labeled for all food categories, with exceptions for naturally occurring trans fat.

The new CFBAI nutrition criteria are set to go into effect January 1, 2020, to coincide with implementation of the FDA’s new food labeling regulations.

Healthy Redefined. While a change to the “healthy” definition was first mentioned here, more recent updates on this nutrition claim are available. The current definition of “healthy” includes specific criteria for nutrients to limit in eating habits, such as total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, as well as requirements for nutrients to encourage, including vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein and fiber. The FDA has acknowledged that public health recommendations for various nutrients have evolved, as reflected in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and that these changes impact the fat profile and nutrients of concern (specifically vitamin D and potassium).

While the FDA requested comments on a revised definition of “healthy” in 2016 and held a public meeting on the topic in March of 2017, new regulations have not been published. The FDA did release guidance for the industry indicating the agency will exercise enforcement discretion relative to foods using the “healthy” claim. Specifically, and as related to fats, FDA will allow the “healthy” claim to be used on food products that are not low in total fat but have a fat profile primarily comprised of mono- and polyunsaturated fats (the sum of mono- and polyunsaturated fats are greater than the total saturated fat content). The amounts of mono- and polyunsaturated fats must be listed in the Nutrition Facts Panel. This is to align with most recent recommendations indicating the type of fat matters more than the total amount of fat.

National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law. The proposed rule, which was released May 4, 2018, defined “bioengineered substance” as matter that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. What’s most interesting about the proposed regulations is foods that will not be required to be labeled as bioengineered, which includes:

  • Food fed to food animals and pets.
  • Foods that have a bioengineered component, but the amount is below threshold levels established by the USDA.
  • Highly refined foods. For example, soybean plants may have bioengineered traits, but this trait is tied to the protein component of the food. Therefore, soybean oil, even if derived from a bioengineered seed, will not carry a bioengineered message on the label, as oil doesn’t contain any protein, and therefore doesn’t have any of the trait.
  • Enzymes, yeasts and incidental additives.
  • Restaurant foods and foods sold by small manufacturers.

The comment period was open through July 3, 2018, and nearly 2,500 comments were received. USDA has a compliance date goal of January 1, 2020, but the work now is to review all the comments and finalize the regulation.