The Nutrition Facts food label is getting a much needed makeover. More than twenty years since its debut, the label is catching up to current thinking in nutrition science. Expected to be phased in by 2018, consumers will have better, more eye catching information to guide their food choices. Below are some the highlights of the new label design.
Dietitians are generally thrilled to see the new call-out for added sugars. While whole, unprocessed foods such as fruit, some vegetables and milk contain natural sugars, most of the sugar in our food supply comes from added sugars. Added sugars include the various sweeteners added to beverages, processed and prepared foods. For more about added sugar sources, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/added-sugars
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 advise limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of total calories. For a typical 2000 calorie diet, that adds up to 12.5 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar. Even though that sounds like a lot, most Americans of all ages far exceed this limit.
When kids fill up on sugary foods, there is little room left for nutritious choices such as whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein foods. Exposing teeth to sugary foods and drinks over the course of the day also leads to tooth decay. Because calories from sugar-sweetened beverages don’t fill us up or satisfy us like solid foods do, they are often just “add-on” calories that contribute to excess calories and weight gain.
Using today’s labels, it takes some diligent detective work to come up with an estimate of added sugars. The current Nutrition Facts label doesn’t distinguish between natural and added sugars. For instance, there are 12 grams of naturally occurring lactose in one cup of milk so if you are looking at a container of chocolate milk with 23 grams of sugar per cup, that means 11 grams are from added sugars. A cup of fat-free Greek yogurt has 9 grams of natural sugars so anything above that in a flavored yogurt is considered added sugar. If a product is 100% fruit, vegetable or juice, all of the sugar on the label is naturally occurring. (With fruit juice, even though the sugars are natural, they are highly concentrated so it’s important to limit to 4-8 ounces daily and choose whole fruit most of the time.)
Serving Size Reality Check
Serving sizes on the new label will more accurately reflect typical portions eaten by Americans. According to FDA, “serving sizes will be more realistic to reflect how much people typically eat at one time.”
Bigger Calorie Number
A new big, bold number will leave no doubt about the calories contained in one serving of a food product.
Fats as a group are no longer vilified and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 instead place emphasis on choosing reasonable amounts of healthier fats (think olive and canola oil, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, avocado). As a result, the “calories from fats” line on will disappear from the new label.
Updated Micronutrient Information
The four micronutrients that are mandatory on labels will be tweaked. While Americans’ intake of vitamins A and C was once problematic, this is no longer the case. Potassium and vitamin D are more important “nutrients of concern” and will replace A and C, while calcium and iron will remain. Consumers will also see the actual amounts of these four nutrients in addition to the % daily value.
Food manufacturers have until July 2018 to phase in the new labels (and smaller companies will have an additional year). But consumers may begin to see some labels reflect the new changes prior to the deadline.
The information and graphic presentation of the new label will help families to choose more wisely, serve as an awareness tool for consumers, and assist health professionals in deciphering the key nutrient contribution of packaged foods.
All images are from the FDA website. Below is a comparison between the current label and the new label: