How the Upcoming Nutrition Facts Label Changes Will Affect Your Diet
Have you noticed some changes to that black-and-white box on the side of your packaged foods lately? There’s a reason why some foods’ nutrition facts have started to look a little different from what you might be used to: larger, bolded fonts; certain line items missing; and surprising new added nutrients.
In 2016, the FDA decided that the nutrition facts label could use a makeover. (About time, we’d say, since the label hadn’t been updated since its introduction way back in 1991.) Initially, the FDA set a deadline of July 2018 for companies to comply with the new regulations. But that due date has now been extended — due to foot-dragging by the food industry, some critics say — to January 2020 for food manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales and January 2021 for those with less. Many forward-thinking companies have already gone ahead and implemented the changes, while others are enjoying their grace period (hence the discrepancies you may have noticed). Regardless of the somewhat confusing current state of label limbo, changes are definitely in the works. Here’s what to expect from the new nutrition facts as the countdown to compliance continues.
1. Layout Changes: In general, the look of the nutrition facts label isn’t slated for dramatic transformation. No flashy new colors or crazy shapes will add pizzazz to the side of food packaging (though that might be kind of fun). But while the traditional grayscale color scheme and rectangular shape will remain the same, smaller design elements are getting tweaked. Most noticeable, perhaps, is the new label’s emphasis on calorie counts. On the old label, calories were listed in the same size font as every other nutrient value, but the new one makes calories stand out in large print — and bolds them, for good measure. The subtotal of calories specifically from fat, which used to sit to the right of total calories, will be removed. (But if you really want to know about calories from fat, you can calculate them yourself. Every gram of fat contains nine calories. Simply multiply the number of fat grams by nine, and voila!)
While the calorie-reporting changes will occur at the top of the label, others will take place at the bottom. Up until now, the nutrition facts label has contained a footnote explaining how many grams of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and fiber are recommended on 2,000-calorie and 2,500-calorie diets. The new label does away with these details, opting instead for a short disclaimer about what “Daily Value” means.
2. Serving Sizes: Everyone knows how ridiculously unrealistic serving sizes can be — even the folks at the FDA, apparently. On the new labels, serving sizes “must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating.” This means no more of that “two servings in a can of soda” nonsense. Oh, and the classically stingy 1/2 cup of ice cream? It’s getting upped to a far more satisfying 2/3 cup.
3. Added Sugars: With all we know about the health pitfalls of sugar, getting educated about how much of it we’re eating is definitely a good thing. Still, there’s a major difference between the sugar that naturally occurs in an apple and what gets injected into a Snickers bar. For this reason, the new label contains a line item just for added sugars. The FDA defines these as “sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packed as such.” Sweeteners like syrups, honey, and concentrated fruit and vegetable juices all qualify (though 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices do not). This new info aims to help Americans make more informed choices about just how much sweetened stuff we’re consuming.
4. Vitamins and Minerals: According to the FDA, when the nutrition facts label was introduced in the early ‘90s, “American diets lacked vitamins A and C, but now vitamins A and C deficiencies in the general population are rare.” Now, it seems that more Americans need a boost of vitamin D and potassium. So out with the old and in with the new: Vitamins A and C will no longer appear on the nutrition facts, with potassium and vitamin D taking their place. For extra science-y goodness, in addition to recommended diet percentages, the new label will display actual milligram or microgram amounts of each of these nutrients.
5. Updated Values: Nutrition research has come a long way since 1991. (Those were the days when we still thought eating fat made us fat… Let that sink in for a minute.) The new nutrition label reflects much that science has uncovered in the subsequent three decades about the body’s dietary needs: Daily Values (the amount of each nutrient the average person should get every day) and their corresponding percentages will therefore be adjusted for some nutrients. The daily target listed for sodium, for example, will be lower than before, while fiber and vitamin D values will be higher.
Next time you get groceries, try to spot which foods sport revised nutrition facts labels. As the next couple of years go by, you’re sure to be seeing them more and more.
Have you noticed any changes to your food labels? Tweet us at @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)