Why We Love the New Nutrition Facts Label

By: Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.  |  Friday, May 20, 2016
It may be because I'm a nutrition nerd, but I'm pretty excited about the FDA announcement today about changes to the nutrition facts panel on food packages. I scour nutrition labels as part of my job. I used to teach people how to shop at the grocery store and it always made me proud to hear them say shopping took twice as long because they were reading all the labels. OK, so grocery shopping doesn't need to take two hours, but it's important to know what you're eating. Some of the changes to the nutrition facts label make it easier to find the information you need to make healthy food choices.
Related: How the Government Decides What You Eat
While we won't see the changes for a couple of years, here are a few key updates that have us excited about the new nutrition facts panel.
  • Added Sugars on the Label: This change is probably the one we're most excited about. Most people eat far too much added sugar, but it's nearly impossible to know how much you're eating. The new label will help with that. The dietary guidelines recommend that no more than 10 percent of calories come from added sugar (200 calories on a 2,000-calorie diet) and the American Heart Association recommends even less—no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (about 96 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (about 144 calories) for men. Sugar occurs naturally in healthy foods like fruits and dairy, but those foods also deliver valuable nutrients. Even if an apple and a handful of jelly beans have the same amount of total sugars, the apple has no added sugar (not to mention it contains fiber and vitamins). At EatingWell, we have been manually calculating added sugars in our recipes for years to help people know what they're getting and we're glad food manufacturers will have to start doing it too.
  • Bigger and Bolder Calories: There's something to be said for the whole "ignorance is bliss" thing when you're eating a brownie and want to ignore the calories you're consuming, but I would argue it's more helpful to have that information, especially if you're trying to lose weight. The new label will display the calories in foods bigger and bolder on the package so you—the consumer—can be more aware of what you're eating. The serving size will also be larger and easier to read on the new label.
  • Changing the Serving Size: This is one change that may be a little tricky to navigate at first. The new package label will list serving size as what people typically eat—and how many of us can make a pint of ice cream last 4 servings? While the nutrition information will reflect how much people typically eat, it may also be harder for people to tell what a healthy portion is. So while the pint of ice cream will now list the calories for 1/3 of the container (instead of a 1/4), you should still make an effort to eat that recommended 1/2-cup serving (even though recommended servings won't be on the new label). Same goes for soda bottles. While people might drink the entire 20-ounce bottle they buy, a healthier serving would only be 8 ounces. Stay portion-savvy with these tips on how to estimate healthy portions.
  • Swapping in Key Nutrients: Traditionally iron, calcium and vitamins A and C have been listed on the nutrition facts panel. But given that Americans typically get enough vitamin A and vitamin C, those are being replaced on the label with vitamin D and potassium—two key nutrients that a lot of us don't get enough of. Potassium is key for healthy blood pressure and is found in lots of fruits and vegetables. And though vitamin D isn't found naturally in many foods (it's added to dairy products and other fortified foods), it's been linked with bone health and better moods. Companies can still voluntarily list vitamins A and C.
  • Daily Values Are Changing: The nutrition label displays percentage of daily value for nutrients based on a 2,000-calorie diet. That's not changing, but some of the daily values are changing based on new science coming from the Institute of Medicine and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D are getting new daily values to better reflect what we should be getting. Always a good thing to have more up-to-date science guiding our choices.
  • Calories from Fat Goes Away: Don't be afraid of fat! The new label won't show calories from fat, only how much total fat, saturated fat and trans fat you're getting. The FDA is making this change because the type of fat you're eating is more important than the total fat in your diet. You still want to limit (or eliminate) trans fat as much as possible. Saturated fat isn't as bad as we once thought, and then there are heart-healthy good fats, mono- and polyunsaturated, that you want to eat more of. Pass the avocados and almonds, please!
The FDA has given food manufacturers until July of 2018 to comply with the label redesign (smaller companies will have until 2019 to make the necessary changes). It will be interesting to see what happens once the changes are made. We hope that people not only start choosing healthier foods, but that food companies start making healthier foods too.
What do you think about the new label? Are you excited too?
Related: 10 Ways Big Food Is Changing to Meet Consumer Demand
Infographic Credit: FDA