How often have you found yourself standing in the middle of the grocery aisle, trying to decipher the nutrition facts food label or navigate a long list of ingredients. The good news is that the Nutrition Facts panel found on foods and beverages is going to change. In a nutshell, the new updates will help you:
- Find out which foods are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium
- Compare similar foods to find out which one is lower in calories
- Look for foods that are lower in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars
The Nutrition Facts label was introduced more than 20 years ago by the government with the goal of helping consumers eat more healthfully. The intention was not to tell consumers what to eat, but rather to provide accurate information so that they could make the best food choices. Over the past few years, it became evident that the label needed a makeover to reflect updated information about nutrition science, giving consumers additional tools to make informed decisions about the foods they eat.
The process of creating a new label may sound straightforward, but it’s actually rather complicated. For example, imagine that you own a company that makes Chocolate Iced Bacon Donuts. You’re enjoying steady sales. Then you’re required to provide detailed information on the label about fat, salt and calories so that consumers can better understand what’s in the donuts. How will this impact the sales of your product? With the new information in hand, will consumers stop buying your product? Purchase more? Government standards for labeling have extremely high stakes. They can potentially boost sales of certain types of foods while decreasing sales of others. That’s why it took the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), scientists and food lobbyists more than two years to update the label’s content and design. In the US, consumers will start seeing the new label on packaging soon—since most manufacturers will be required to have theirs in place by July, 2018.
You’ll find that the new label actually looks a lot like the old one. It will still be black-and-white, and will highlight many of the same categories, including cholesterol and sodium. But some new categories have also been introduced, some are emphasized more than others, and calculations for certain nutrients have changed. Let’s take a look:
As an informed consumer you want to start by checking the label for both the number of servings in the package and the serving size (the amount for one serving). Legally, serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993, so this is perhaps the most important update. For example, the reference amount used for a serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup (seriously…) but has been updated to one cup. The reference amount for a serving of soda has been changed from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.
Package size influences how much people eat. I’ve found that consumers mistakenly think that the numbers listed on the label reflect what’s in the entire package. Since this has been a consistent point of confusion, key changes were made in this area. Odd-sized packages or containers that are between one and two servings—such as a 20-ounce bottle of soda—will now be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it all at once.
For multi-serving products that may be consumed in one sitting or used up over time,there will now be two columns to indicate the per-serving and per-package calorie and nutrition information. This will save you from doing the math. For example, with dual-column labels available, it will be obvious how many calories and nutrients you’re getting if you choose to eat the entire pint for dessert.
You always want to get a handle on the total number of calories that are in a single serving. With the new label, you will no longer need a magnifying glass to do so. The total amount of calories is highlighted in large letters rather than being in the same type size as the other nutrition information. This change will help consumers to more easily see how many calories are in a product, so that they can make a choice that is consistent with their energy and health goals.
A completely new category has been included under “Total Sugars” to help consumers understand whether or not sugar has been added to a product, and if so, how much sugar has been added. “Added sugars,” in grams and as percent Daily Value, will be included on the new label. This allows consumers to differentiate between sugars added during processing, versus sugars that are naturally in wholesome foods, such as in fresh fruits, dried fruits, and dairy foods. Without this distinction, these foods often get erroneously lumped into the “high sugar” food category and people think they should avoid them. Of course, it’s the exact opposite—these foods should be included as part of a healthful diet. Along with the sugar that they naturally contain, are important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. That’s one of the great things about Sun-Maid raisins. Ever look at their list of ingredients? Just grapes. Yet, the label shows 20 grams of sugar. The new label will clarify that the sugar is simply from the grapes—there are no added sugars in Sun-Maid raisins.
The percent daily values for sodium and dietary fiber will change for many foods based on the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Institute of Medicine recommendations. Fiber guidelines have increased from 25 grams/day to 28 grams/day. So if a food contains 5 grams of fiber, the new label would read 18% for the percent daily value instead of 20%. For sodium, the percent daily value used to be based on a maximum of 2,400 mg of sodium/day. It will now be based on 2,300 mg/day.
National surveys have shown that Americans are not getting enough vitamin D and potassium in our diets. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health, and potassium helps to lower blood pressure. Because a lack of these nutrients is associated with an increased risk of chronic disease, the new label will now show the number of grams—along with the percent daily values that was listed on the old label. Calcium and iron are already required and will continue to be on the label.
In the early 1990’s, American diets lacked Vitamins A and C, but now Vitamins A and C deficiencies in the general population are rare. These will no longer be required on labels, but manufacturers can still list these vitamins voluntarily.
Believe it or not, back in 1942, The US government considered butter and margarine as one of seven food groups to eat daily! Along with changes in what food group should be on our plate, labels will now highlight that type of fat is more important than the amount of fat in the product. “Calories from Fat” will no longer be on the label. However, “Total Fat,” and the subcategories “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will still be required.
The Percent Daily Value footnote at the bottom of the label will still be based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but the explanation will read: “*The % Daily Value tells you 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.” Check out the comparison between the new and old label (source: FDA sample label).
What do you think? Will the new food label change the food you buy? Send us your feedback!