If you read nutrition labels, be prepared for a revamp. In May 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the existing nutrition information panel would get a facelift. With only two revisions since its inception 20 years ago, this revamp is the most significant change. In June 2017, the FDA announced it would push back the original compliance deadline of July 2018. A new date has yet to be set, but some companies are already using the updated label or announcing they will by the original deadline.
Regardless of when updated labels hit the shelves, we wanted to give you the 411 on the major changes and how consumers can use them to make healthier decisions.
1. THE ADDITION OF ADDED SUGARS
This is the most debated revision to the label from the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). In this revision, added sugars will be displayed in grams and as percent of daily value to help you assess the added sugars in different foods and drinks. The DGA determined that if you consume more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars, it’s difficult to meet nutritional needs while staying within calorie limits. On average, we get about 13% of our total calories from added sugars.
2. SERVING SIZES ARE MORE REALISTIC
Though serving size information will still be listed just below “Nutrition Facts,” there will be significant changes to how serving sizes are calculated. This is especially important since serving sizes have not changed since the mid-1990s. For example, the serving size of ice cream used to be 1/2 cup. However, after reviewing the serving sizes the majority of Americans consume, it will be updated to 2/3 cup. With this change, the information on the package more closely mirrors the amount of food we’re actually eating, so we can get a more accurate nutrition snapshot.
3. CALORIES FROM FAT REMAIN
While the calorie information increases in number, the calories from fat statistic will be removed from the label. The updated label will still include information about total fat, saturated fat and trans fat, since the current body of science shows the type of fat is more important than the amount of calories from fat.
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4. VITAMINS AND MINERALS GET A REVAMP
The bottom of the label, where vitamins and minerals are currently listed, is also getting some significant changes. The old label included basic nutrients such as vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. In the early 1990s, American diets lacked these vitamins, but now deficiencies are rare. Calcium and iron remain on the updated label, with vitamin D and potassium also being added. Many of us don’t get enough of each of these nutrients and a deficit can be associated with chronic disease. This micronutrient information will now be displayed in actual amounts (in milligrams and micrograms) and percent of daily value.
5. LARGER LABEL
Not only is the updated label going to take up more real estate on the packaging, other information, such as calorie content, is increasing in font size. This shift is designed to help us quickly identify the calories in foods and beverages since calories are what ultimately determines weight gain and weight loss. Although this change puts the spotlight on calories, it’s still important to read the entire label to assess what important nutrients are consumed or lacking.
While significant, these nutrition label changes should help us be more informed about added sugars, important nutrients and serving sizes, leading to more informed food choices over the long run.