The new year is just around the corner, and for many of us, that means change is on its way. One "new" change that is for certain, and is coming to a grocery store near you, is the new nutrition facts label.
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The nutrition facts label is found on all packaged food items and details the nutrition contents of that food whether it's a box of crackers or a gallon of milk. The label is established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the current one is more than 20 years old. Trans fats were added to the label in 2003, but significant changes to the label haven't been made in over two decades despite the amount of research and knowledge we've acquired in this time.
Needless to say, the FDA agreed it was time for a makeover and rolled out the final rules on the new nutrition facts label back in May 2016. While some companies have already updated their products' label — which is why you may have spotted it already — the final compliance date for large companies is January 1, 2020.
Find out what's new on the sparkly, improved label and how understanding the changes can help you make better-informed food decisions every day.
The Original Vs. New Nutrition Facts Label
1. Serving Sizes
The update: Serving sizes and servings per container will now be in a larger and bolder font on the label. The serving sizes have been updated to realistically reflect the typical portion sizes we eat.
Why we're excited about it: Have you ever been confused by how many servings are actually in that bag of popcorn or were disappointed by the small portion listed as the "serving size" on a pint of ice cream? These updates will make it easier for people to read and understand what actually constitutes a portion size and how many are in a single container.
I'm also a fan of the portions more closely reflecting what people are actually eating. For instance, the portion for ice cream will be three-fourths of a cup instead of a half-cup.
The update: One of the biggest changes is seen in the "calories" section. The font size has been drastically increased and emboldened. Also, "calories from fat" was removed.
Why we're excited about it: I'm a fan because it makes it easier to see how many calories are in a portion at first glance. Also, the calories from fat can be misleading, so removing it was a great call. As we've learned over the years, not all fats are created equal and we shouldn't demonize the macronutrient as a whole since the type of fat is more important than the amount of total fat.
3. Added Sugars
The update: "Added Sugars" in grams and as a percent Daily Value (%DV) is now required on the label.
Why we're excited about it: This might be the change I'm most excited about. For years we've had these set guidelines and recommendations to limit our added sugar intake. But that's hard to quantify when it's not included on food packaging — especially if you're eating foods like yogurt or something with fruit included, both of which contain naturally occurring sugars.
Added sugars should be limited to less than 10 percent of total calories according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and now it'll be easier to keep track, especially if your diet frequently includes packaged foods.
4. Fiber and Sodium
The update: The recommended DV of fiber increased from 25 to 28 percent of total calories. The percent DV of sodium decreased from 2,400 milligrams to 2,300 milligrams
Why we're excited about it: This is another win in my book. More and more research, like this April 2013 paper published in Nutrients, continues to highlight all of dietary fiber's benefits from digestive health to weight management to heart health. The increase in the recommended amounts is a reflection of this growing body of research.
The same goes for the sodium slash. The reduction to 2,300 milligrams is in line with the American Heart Association's recommendations to lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
5. Included Nutrients and Percent Daily Values (%DV)
The update: Vitamin D and potassium are now required on the label while vitamins A and C are no longer required. The actual amount in addition to the percent Daily Value (DV) must be listed for vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. The percent DV has changed for some of the micronutrients.
Why we're excited about it: These changes reflect the current state of our diets and the knowledge we've gained in nutrition science along the way. For instance, deficiencies in vitamin A and C are extremely rare, so including these on the nutrition facts label is a waste of precious real estate.
Instead, vitamin D, potassium, iron and calcium are all nutrients we aren't getting enough of according to the FDA, so requiring these on the label enables consumers to make more relevant and informed choices.
- Food and Drug Administration: "Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label"
- Food and Drug Administration: "The New and Improved Nutrition Facts Label – Key Changes"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Cut Down on Added Sugars"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Nutrition Facts Label Reboot: A Tale of Two Labels"
- Nutrients: "Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?"