The New & Improved Nutrition Facts Label

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new discovery being made in the field of nutrition, new research being conducted, or a new dietary recommendation out that needs to be followed.

I love that I’m in a field that’s constantly evolving, growing, and changing. But there’s one area that hasn’t changed for over 20 years and has been, not surprisingly, falling behind – the Nutrition Facts Label. Of the many nutrition-related questions I get asked, the Nutrition Facts Label is at the top.

It’s the label that adorns every packaged food item, informing you of everything from the serving size and calories to the percentage of vitamin A found in your bag of potato chips. It can be a confusing label to try to follow with all the numbers and percentages filling up such a small space.

Yet, with all the information you can gather from the label, it still seems to be missing some valuable information.

It’s been a long time coming for the Nutrition Facts label to get a major overhaul. This may be the reason why professionals in the nutrition field gave cheers of delight – myself included – when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in late May that a new look was going to be coming for the label in as little as two years.

Better yet, the changes are ones I completely agree with and believe will help consumers make easier, more nutritious decisions when comparing foods.

So, what changes will be being to see on the label? Here are the major changes and how they’ll affect you and me.

Nutrition Facts label

On the left, is the current Nutrition Facts Label. What the revised label will look like is on the right. Source:

More realistic serving size

The serving size is increasing, in most instances, to what we normally eat in a sitting. While this may seem counterintuitive with the obesity epidemic we’re facing, it’ll become clearer how much you’re eating without having to multiply several servings.

For instance, a serving size of ice cream will increase from ½ cup to 2/3 cup and a serving of soda will change from 8 ounces to 12 ounces. The font size of the serving size and calories will also be increasing, making it easier to find among all the other numbers on the label.

Changing nutrients

What people were concerned about 20 years ago is different from what we’re concerned about now. To better reflect our nutritional concerns, vitamin A and C will no longer be required to be listed on the label, since most Americans have no difficulty obtaining these vitamins. Rather, vitamin D and potassium are now required on the label since these nutrients are needed for bone and heart health, respectively.

Percent Daily Values

The percentage of daily values, which are the average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day, are being added to nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, sugar, and vitamin D. While these nutrients were without values before, based on new findings, there are now reference amounts of how much of these we should be consuming daily.

For an easy way to use the daily values on the label, aim for high daily values (20 percent or more) in vitamins and minerals and low values (5 percent or less) in added sugars and sodium.

Added sugar

Added sugar will be differentiated from naturally-occurring sugar as an indented sub-item under Total Sugar on the label. This is, by far, the change I’m most excited for, both personally and as a dietitian.

It is now well-known that we need to reduce the amount of added sugar in our diets, and it was even added to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to reduce added sugar to 10% of our daily calories. This is good advice, in theory, but up until now, it’s been almost impossible to know just how much added sugar we’re consuming since added and natural sugars have been lumped into one category on the Nutrition Facts Label.

While we’re all excited for these changes to take place, we’ll still have to wait a little bit longer for this to go into effect. Large manufacturers will have to make the switch by July 2018.

A makeover never looked so good. While it appears promising, only time will tell if these changes will help us make healthier, easier choices when we turn over that package in the grocery store aisle to have a look.