Understanding the New Food Labels
a special feature by Sandra Porter Leon, Nutritionist*
It’s about time! The Nutrition Facts Label, a helpful nutrition guide printed on packaged foods, is getting a face-lift! After 20 years, the FDA has updated the new labels to reflect our current eating habits, and, according to its website, “provide information that can help consumers make informed choices about the food they purchase and consume.” Even First Lady Michele Obama spearheaded the Let’s Move! campaign to decrease childhood obesity, and unveiled the new design in order to help families make healthier choices. Most manufacturers will have to comply with new food labels by July 2018.
Whether you look at the Nutrition Facts Label for total calories or protein grams, the following changes will help you navigate the new format:
Serving size. Finally the serving size on the new food label will reflect more realistically on what we ACTUALLY eat, not how much we SHOULD eat. Our nation’s average consumption has increased over the past twenty years, contributing to an obesity epidemic with nearly 2/3 of Americans overweight. A serving of ice cream, for example, will increase to two-thirds of a cup instead of one-half and a serving of soda will change from 8 to 12 ounces.
Added sugars. With the new labels, you no longer need to be a detective to uncover the source of the whopping 26 sugar grams in Yoplait’s Original Fat-free Strawberry Yogurt, whether it comes from the fruit, milk, or added sugar. The FDA has inserted the “added sugar” line so consumers will know how much sugar is naturally in the product and how much is added. While the food industry fought hard to keep this addition out, the FDA won. The new dietary guidelines recommend that daily intake of “added” sugar calories not exceed 10 percent of total calories. Translation? This is about 50 grams (200 calories) or 10 teaspoons of added sugar, the same amount in a can of Coke. Children 1 to 3 should not consume more than 25 grams of added sugar a day.**
Vitamins/Minerals. Vitamin D, important for bone health, and potassium, which lowers blood pressure, will be added to the list of nutrients since most Americans do not get adequate levels of these nutrients, according to the NHANES Survey. Vitamin A and C will no longer be listed on the label since deficiencies of these are rare.
Calories. Put away those reading glasses- you won’t need help seeing the bolder and larger CALORIE line. In light of our obesity problem, the FDA wants consumers to see how much they are eating.
Fat: For those of you who only look at Nutrient Facts for fat calories, look again since research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount. There will still be categories for total fat, sat fat, and trans fat.
% Daily Value: The % DV informs the consumer how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to their daily diet plan. For example, a serving of Progresso’s Creamy Tomato with Penne (1 cup) has a 29% DV for sodium (690mg) which provides 29% of your total sodium you should eat each day. If you have two cups, that would mean nearly 2/3 of your sodium intake. Stay away! Go low (5% or less) on the % DV’s for sugar and sodium and high (20% or more) on the % DV’s for vitamins and minerals.
Dual Column. Consumers will see that on some products that are larger than a single serving but could be consumed in one sitting, the dual column provides information per serving or per package. So, the next time you are watching House of Cards and eating the entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s Rocky Road, you will not need a calculator to know you consumed 800 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 20 teaspoons of sugar.
Bottom Line: The government is not telling consumers what to eat, just providing the tools to eat healthier!
**The American Heart Association recommends even stricter “added” sugar limits, excluding those in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk. Women should consume only about 100 calories (six teaspoons) a day and men no more than 150 calories (nine teaspoons).
*Sandra Porter Leon, MS, RD, is a nutrition expert with 25 years experience in education and consulting. An avid swimmer and gardener, she lives in Virginia Beach where you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org