New nutrition standards limit added sugars, sodium

Weekly dietary limits to be implemented by school year 2027-28


The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced new nutrition standards that will, for the first time, limit added sugars and sodium in kids’ meals. 

The change will gradually phase in added sugar limits for the school lunch and breakfast program in the Child and Adult Care Food Program and update total sugar limits for breakfast cereals and yogurt to added sugar limits, according to the final rule. It also implements a single sodium reduction in the school lunch and breakfast programs, but not by the 30% first proposed last year.

“We all share the goal of helping children reach their full potential. Like teachers, classrooms, books, and computers, nutritious school meals are an essential part of the school environment, and when we raise the bar for school meals, it empowers our kids to achieve greater success inside and outside of the classroom,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. 

The decision comes after the USDA considered the latest recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and received stakeholder feedback, including from the ADA. 

In May 2023 the Association filed comments to the School Meals Policy Division commenting on the Food and Nutrition Service’s proposal to better align the nutrition standards for federal school meal programs with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

The letter, signed by former ADA President George R. Shepley, D.D.S., and Executive Director Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S., highlighted the fact that no amount of sugar, added or natural, can be consumed without increasing the risk for tooth decay since it increases plaque build-up. 

“We recognize that it is neither practical nor possible to remove all sugary foods from the human diet or to classify some nutrient rich foods as being unhealthy based on sugar content alone. Even milk has a measurable amount of sugar. However, it is both practical and possible to encourage good eating habits, which would necessarily include limiting sugar consumption. We stand ready to help make that happen,” the letter said. 

Under the final rule, product-based limits on added sugars will be implemented in two phases. In phase one, breakfast cereals may have no more than six grams of added sugars per dry ounce; yogurt may have no more than 12 grams of added sugars per six ounces; and flavored milk may have no more than 10 grams of added sugars per eight fluid ounces or, for flavored milk sold as a competitive food for middle and high schools, 15 grams of added sugars per 12 fluid ounces. 

Then in phase two, weekly dietary limits will be implemented, limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories across the week in the school lunch and breakfast programs. 

The final rule kept some current regulations in place. For example, it continues to allow flavored milks with less sugar rather than adopting a proposed option that would have offered only unflavored milk to the youngest kids. It also maintains the current whole grains requirement that at least 80% of the weekly grains offered in the school lunch and breakfast programs are whole-grain rich.

Program operators are not required to make any changes to their menus as a result of this rulemaking until school year 2025-26 at the earliest. 

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