It’s been more than 20 years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required food companies to add the Nutrition Facts label on all packaging consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Our knowledge changes over time of how food, nutrition and our diets impact our health. As a result, the Nutrition Facts label is showing its age.
In May 2016, the FDA rolled out a fresh new look with information better aligned with what we know today to help us make more informed choices about what we eat. Most food and beverage processors are required to adopt the new label by July 26, 2018, while smaller companies have until 2019 to comply.
Charlotte Rommereim is a registered dietitian nutritionist and farmer from Alcester, South Dakota, who appreciates the simplicity of the new label. When her patients have questions about the nutritional benefits of foods, she instructs them to look for the facts in basic black and white.
“I encourage people to get beyond the marketing on the front of the package to read the Nutrition Facts label for information they can use,” says Charlotte. “All food products use the same label so it’s easy to compare one product with another.”
You might start seeing the new label on foods in grocery stores sooner than you think, so here are six changes you should note:
More Realistic Serving Sizes.
Have you ever looked at a serving size on a nutrition label and thought to yourself, “Who only eats THAT much?” New serving sizes will be more aligned with what we typically eat. They will be clearer and listed at the top of the label. Packages that contain more than a single serving will be required to list dual columns showing per serving and per package nutrition content. The type will also be larger and bolder for information at a glance.
BIG and BOLD Calories.
It will be more difficult to ignore the calorie count on those fudge brownies since calories will now be the biggest, boldest information on the label. There’s room for it because …
No More Calories From Fats.
No, that doesn’t mean the food you’re eating no longer has fat calories. It means research shows the type of fat consumed is more important to living a healthy lifestyle than the amount.
Added Sugars Required.
The only sugars that occur naturally in foods are lactose (milk) and fructose (fruit). All others are considered “added sugars” that can be incorporated during processing or packaging. New labels require added sugars to be listed in grams and percentage of daily value so you can keep track. Research show it’s difficult to meet nutritional needs and stay within calorie limits if you get more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars. Think of it as the difference between eating an apple vs. applesauce. The applesauce has the added sugar, and now you will know exactly how much.
Updated List of Nutrients.
Say goodbye to vitamins A and C as deficiencies of these nutrients are rare today in the U.S. Say hello to vitamin D and potassium, which we sometimes lack in our diets. Calcium and iron are still required. Daily values have been updated to align with new data and now include a percentage instead of just milligrams.
The footnote language is updated to provide more context and better explain how the product fits within a recommended diet.
Even though the updates might seem small, they have potential to have a big impact. For example, with the new label, you can determine how much sugar in the product occurs naturally and how much is added. That’s the transparency people crave.
“Just as consumers like farmers to be transparent about food production, they also want to read a food label and feel like they understand it,” Charlotte explains. “Consumers have concerns about healthy eating patterns and appreciate a label giving them the facts about the foods they choose.”
Charlotte encourages anyone who has questions about nutrition or the Nutrition Facts label to ask a local dietitian. Another great resource she uses is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. You can learn more about what food labels really mean and how to tell fact from fiction with these blogs: