Food Label Makeover - What Has Changed?

At the end of May, many of you may have heard the FDA announce new food labels for packaged foods.  The hope is that the new labels will be more effective at helping consumers make better informed food decisions.  I actually wholeheartedly believe that consumers are very aware of things like serving size, calories, etc.  I'm not totally sure putting it in bold type and making the font size bigger is what we need to do to change the food culture we have created.  You know how passionate I am about being more aware of WHY you eat.  However, I am all for transparency in nutrition reporting so I do think the new labels are a step in the right direction and the changes are for the better.  Please remember as you read what follows that nutrition information is mean to be a tool, not a weapon.  

So what has changed?  

  • “Servings per container” is now in bigger type.  This can be helpful for those that may not realize that there could be multiple servings per container, but as I mentioned I think those people are the exception not the rule.  
  • In addition, the “serving size” is now updated to better reflect the amount that people typically eat.  For example, the serving size for ice cream used to be 1/2 cup and now it is 2/3 cup.  Soda serving size will now be labeled as 12 oz instead of 8 oz.  As a result, the number of servings per container for these foods will decrease, but the nutrition information listed will better reflect an amount more in line with amount typically consumed.  
  • They are also going to be providing “dual column” labels - one with amounts per serving and one with amounts per package.  This will make servings sizes and servings per container more clear.  
  • “Calorie” and “serving size amounts" will now be in bigger and bolded type, making it easier to read.
  • Manufacturers will now list the gram amounts of Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium although only listing Vitamin D and potassium are mandatory.  As a nutrition professional I like this, but I’m not sure if the consumer will be able to translate these gram amounts.  They will still list %DV as they always have.  Vitamin A and Vitamin C will now not be included; this just reflects what is found in dietary trends - Americans are found to be deficient in Vitamin D and potassium more than any other nutrient and Vitamin A and Vitamin C are less of a concern then they were when the food labels were last updated.  
  • “Added sugars” will now be included under total sugar amounts.  This is HUGE and very much needed!  Recommendations for lowering sugar intake is in regards to ADDED sugar, NOT naturally occurring sugar found in unsweetened dairy products and fruit.  Now when you look at a food label, you will be able to quickly see how much added sugar is in a product.  This begs the question...how much added sugar is too much?  In 2008, the American Heart Association came out with added sugar recommendations:  (less than or equal to) 24 grams or 6 tsp for women and (less than or equal to) 36 grams or 9 tsp of men (1 tsp is equivalent to 4 grams of sugar).  The average American consumes about 300-350 calories per day in added sugars. This is equivalent to 79 grams or 22 tsp of sugar.  There is no question that many Americans consume too much added sugar, however I hope that the AHA recommendation prevents an all-or-nothing mentality with sweeteners.  No-sugar diets are all the rage, but you have wiggle room!  No worries about adding some sweetener to oats or yogurt or baked goods, etc.  We gotta focus more on overall food patterns than any one food or ingredient.  
  • “Calories from fat” has been taken off.  So glad about this.  It was unnecessary, misleading and confusing.  If a food is high in fat, the calories from fat will be high, but that doesn’t mean a food is “unhealthy”.  A good example is peanut butter - the majority of calories in peanut butter comes from fat…as it should be!  Avocados (although they rarely have food labels), oils, olives, other nuts and seeds, etc. will also fall into this category.  
  • % Daily Value amounts are being updated for sodium, fiber and Vitamin D.  This should just assure you that we (nutrition professionals and researchers) continue to learn and aim to provide the most up to date scientific evidence when making nutrition recommendations. 
  • Finally, remember that nature has created a wide variety of wholesome foods.  Eating them while listening to hunger and fullness levels will always be a better reflection of nourishment than a food label will ever be, no matter how many revision are made to it.  

So when can you expect these new changes?  Manufacturers are required to use the new label by July 26, 2018. However, manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to make the change.  So unfortunately there’s a little wait (par for government services, right!?) but you may see them popping up sooner depending on the manufacturer.  

What questions do you have about the new labels?  I would be happy to answer them!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD