Have You Noticed the New Look of the Nutrition Facts Label on Packaged Food Products?
The FDA announced the nutrition facts label changes in 2016, but it gave food companies until 2020 and 2021 to make the changes. Companies with 10 million dollars in annual sales had until January of 2020 to make the changes. Companies with less than 10 million dollars in annual sales had until January of 2021. So, now, with only a few exceptions, you will see the new label on all commercially packaged food items.
Why Was the Label Redesigned?
The old label was over 20 years old and over time the nutrition guidelines have changed. The FDA believes the new label design will help consumers make better food choices.
What are the Changes to the Label?
“Calories” and “Serving Size” have a Bigger, Bolder Font and “Calories from Fat” is Now Gone.
As you can see, the font size is now bigger for the words “calories,” “servings per container,” and “serving size.” These words are also bolded to draw your attention to them.
Calories from fat is no longer required. Current dietary guidelines focus on the type of fat that is in food rather than the total amount. Studies show that diets high in saturated fat and trans fat can lead to heart disease (1). Foods high in saturated fat include some dairy products, meat, and palm oil and coconut oil. Foods high in trans fat include baked goods, snack goods, and stick margarine. Healthier fats include unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados, almonds, peanuts, soft margarine, and canola, peanut, and olive oil. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats are salmon, walnuts, pine nuts, and corn, soybean, and sunflower oils. Eating healthier types of fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease (2) when they are eaten in place of saturated fats.
How to Use the Food Label to Identify Types of Fat in Food:
Figure 3 Peapod.com
Let’s compare the type of fat in walnuts versus cheddar cheese. The walnuts have a high amount of total fat (20g), but most of it is healthy polyunsaturated fat (14g). They have low levels of saturated fat (2g) and trans fat (0g).
- Nutrition Lesson: Walnuts are a healthy snack in moderation. Pre-portion walnuts to ¼ cup servings to stay on track with your nutrition goals.
The cheese sticks have less total fat per serving than the walnuts. They have 7g per serving rather than 20g per serving. However, one cheese stick has 4.5g saturated fat or 22% of the total daily value for saturated fat. The saturated fat in the walnuts is only 10% of the total daily value for saturated fat.
- Nutrition Lesson: Choose low-fat cheese as a snack. Regular cheese is one of the most common sources of saturated fat in the diet (3)
Serving Sizes Are More Realistic.
Amounts listed on food labels now reflect the quantity of food that today’s consumers are eating. Serving sizes were originally developed in 1993. The amounts that people eat of certain foods has changed since then. It is important to note that the serving size on a food package is not a recommendation of how much to eat. Rather, it demonstrates how portions have gotten larger with time.
The FDA knows that certain smaller pack sizes of foods are usually eaten in one sitting. Many packages of chips, ice cream, and soda, now show both calories per serving and calories per package.
Figure 4 https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/food-serving-sizes-get-reality-check
Below is a bag of chips that shows both numbers. Although it appears to be a “snack size,” since it is only 2oz, it has two servings per bag. The entire bag is 270 calories which may be more than what you want to consume for a snack.
Figure 5 https://www.cvs.com/shop/ritz-cheese-crispers-cheddar-crackers-2-oz-prodid-321743
- Nutrition Lesson: One package of food may contain more than one serving. Be aware of the serving sizes of packaged food items to stay on track with your nutrition goals.
The Required Vitamins and Minerals on the Label Have Changed.
The original label listed the vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron content of food. The new label lists the vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium content in food. Why were vitamin D and potassium added, and vitamin A and C dropped?
The original version of the nutrition facts label is from the 1990s. During that time, many American diets were deficient in vitamin A and vitamin C. This is no longer the case. Currently, many American diets are deficient in vitamin D and potassium. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to poor bone health. Low levels of potassium can lead to high blood pressure. Thus, the FDA changed the label to reflect these changes in the population.
- Nutrition lesson: Choose foods with higher amounts of vitamin D, potassium, calcium, and iron. This can reduce your risk of chronic diseases (5).
The Actual Amounts of Vitamins and Minerals in a Serving Size are Now Listed.
The label now shows the actual amount of the vitamin or mineral in micrograms (mcg) or milligrams (mg). The percent (%) Daily Value (DV) is also shown. The DV of a nutrient tells us the recommended amount to consume daily or not to exceed. The %DV tells us how much of a nutrient in a food serving contributes to one’s daily goals. Having the actual amount of the vitamin or mineral makes it easier to keep track of your nutrient goals.
Figure 6 https://www.pinterest.com/cspinutrition/
The updated recommended DV for calcium is now 1300mg per day (the original DV was 1000mg per day) (5). Yet, it is not recommended to consume more than 500mg of calcium at a time. The body cannot absorb more than this amount of calcium at once. Thus, it is helpful to see the number of mg of calcium in the food you are consuming. This nutrition facts label from a container of soy milk shows that one cup contains 300mg of calcium or 25% DV. A DV% greater than 20% also tells us this drink is an excellent source of calcium. You could drink 3 cups of soy milk throughout the day and have 900mg towards your goal of 1300mg per day.
- Nutrition Lesson: 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high.
The New Label Shows the Amount of Added Sugar in a Serving Size.
This number of grams of added sugar identifies foods that had sugar added during processing. Added sugar adds calories or energy, but not vitamins or minerals. Foods that naturally contain sugar, like fruit or milk, also contain important nutrients. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, and fiber (for fruits). That is why the DV for added sugars is 50g per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet (6), but there is no DV for total sugar. Eating a lot of foods with added sugar makes it hard to meet your nutrient needs and calorie goals.
The picture below shows a sports drink with a large amount of added sugar. There are 29g of added sugar per bottle. If you play sports or exercise for 90 minutes or more at a time, drinking a sports drink may help you with endurance. Your body converts the added sugar in the drink to energy it needs to perform the activity. If you are less active and you drink a lot of sports drinks instead of water, your body could store this extra energy as fat.
Figure 7 Peapod.com
- Nutrition Lesson: Drink water for hydration. Save the sports drinks for exercise or competitions that last longer than 90 minutes.
You can use the new food label to make more informed and better food choices. For more information on the other components of the food label, visit this site. FDA Interactive Nutrition Facts Label. It has an interactive tool that teaches about all the sections on the food label.
In general, choose foods with higher amounts of fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. Limit foods that are higher in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Choosing healthier foods can reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.
Have questions on how to read food labels to meet your nutrition needs? Leave a comment or reach out on the contact page!
- Ellis, R. (n.d.). The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-basics-of-the-nutrition-facts-label
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2020, June 29). The New Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/new-nutrition-facts-label
- Levin, S. (2020, June 23). 5 Top Sources of Heartbreaking Saturated Fat. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/5-top-sources-heartbreaking-saturated-fat
- Office of the Commissioner. (2016, July 07). Food Serving Sizes Get a Reality Check. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/food-serving-sizes-get-reality-check
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2021, January 04). Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/changes-nutrition-facts-label
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2020, March 11). Added Sugars on the New Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/added-sugars-new-nutrition-facts-label