Believe it or not it’s been over 20 years since the FDA changed the nutrition labels on the foods you buy every day, so the recently announced changes are long overdue. Sure, calories are still calories and ingredients are still ingredients so technically they have not changed in the last couple of decades – but what we’ve learned about nutrition and health certainly has.
We now have a much better understanding of what we need to be healthy and what the true health-robbing culprits in our diets are now. And we recognize the reality of how people eat in a way that the old labels never reflected.
In other words, it’s well past time that our nutrition labels reflect our new understanding of what’s healthy and what’s not.
Nutrition label changes to be on the lookout for
So, you’re probably wondering what the actual changes to the nutrition labels will be. And whether or not they are good or bad.
Let’s take a closer look…
1. Serving sizes:
This one is huge. Most of us certainly didn’t need a special committee or two decades of reflection to know that the serving sizes on nutrition labels weren’t based in reality. But it’s great to know the FDA is finally recognizing this too.
Currently many products that folks consider single servings are broken into several servings on the nutrition label to artificially reduce the amount of the most troubling ingredients on the label. The calories, carbohydrates and sugars in a product look much better to the casual observer if they are half or a third of what will actually be eaten. Because let’s be honest when is the last time you bought a sleeve of nuts, a granola bar or even a soft drink and only eaten 1/3 of it?
And even in multi-use products the servings sizes are currently often far smaller than the average adult would actually eat.
With the upcoming nutrition label changes the serving sizes will reflect the way most people eat more realistically. Food manufacturers will no longer be able to hide behind their old serving size trick. This is definitely a step in the right direction!
2. Servings per package:
This one is closely tied to number 1 in our list. It will actually lead to two separate numbers on the label.
If the package could reasonably be split into more than one serving, the nutrition label will show calories and nutrition information per serving. But if that same package could reasonably be eaten in one sitting, by one person, the nutrition label will also give the calories and nutrition information per container.
This could help the average person make a healthier decision. Or on days you don’t make the best diet choices it can help you see the impact your decisions have made on your nutrition for the day. Think about a pint of ice cream, for example. Yes, it may be reasonably broken up into 3 servings (the new amount under nutrition label change #1). But on a splurge day it might go down in one sitting.
The calorie count number on nutrition labels will now be bigger than the rest of the label. This will make it much easier to see, not to mention making it more difficult for us to pretend we didn’t see it. It’s just too bad that calorie count isn’t the most important number on the label. Around here we’d love to see them bump up the size of the carbohydrate count for example.
4. Added sugars:
Grams of sugar were already included on our nutritional labels, of course. But the big change here is that we’re now going to see the ADDED sugars broken out.
In other words, we will now be able to tell what sugar was placed in the foods by nature and how much sugar has been dumped into the product by the food manufacturer. For example, if a product has 7 g of sugar, but only 1 g of added sugar, you’ll now know it’s a healthier choice than a product with 7 g of sugar and 6 g of added sugar.
This is a terrific change that will help folks who are already trying to make healthier choices make even better ones!
The grams of sodium listed in a product won’t change, but the percentage of Daily Value at the end of the line will. Under the old guidelines, the percentage was based on a maximum of 2400 mg of sodium per day. That’s been lowered to 2300 mg of sodium per day. So the same product will now have higher sodium percentages listed.
Sodium isn’t the villain it’s always made out to be when you’re getting the right kind. But the truth is the vast majority of manufactured foods contain junk salts and a certain amount of us are salt sensitive. So this change may be useful for some folks.
Check ingredient listings for clues to the type of salt you’ll be getting. Organic sea salt, Celtic salt, or Himalayan salts, for example are preferable.
Similar to sodium, the amounts of fiber listed in your food won’t change, but the percentage of Daily Value will. They’re finally encouraging people to eat more fiber – 28 g per day, up from 25 g – so the same food will have the same grams of fiber, but show a lower % of Daily Value.
This is a good change for folks who are trying to raise their fiber levels, as most of us should be.
7. Vitamin D and Potassium:
Both vitamin D and potassium are getting added to nutrition labels. Since most folks don’t get nearly enough of either of these nutrients in their diet this could be a good change if you start making a habit of looking for these numbers.
We will file this one under “can’t hurt and might help.”
8. Vitamins A and C (removed):
While vitamin D and potassium were added to the new nutrition labels, vitamins A and C were removed.
According to the FDA most folks are now meeting their RDAs for these two nutrients and as a result there’s no need to have them on the label anymore. But we know better, don’t we?
Far too many folks, especially seniors, are still falling well below optimal levels for these nutrients. So don’t let this change fool you into thinking you shouldn’t be concerned about keeping your levels of both nutrients up.
Over the last 20 or so years, the mainstream has FINALLY learned that fat doesn’t make you fat, in spite of what the fad diets of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s would have had you believe. Now nutrition labels will provide just the more useful fat information. The breakdown of types of fat will still be listed, so you can ensure you’re getting a good balance of the healthy fats you need, but the actual calorie count itself is part of the past.
Change can be good or bad. In the case of the new nutrition labels the changes have turned out to be mostly steps in the right direction. In some cases they don’t go quite far enough, for example we’d love to see more details on the nutrient types or forms such as the kinds or fiber or type of a vitamin used. But overall the modifications are positive, and we’ll take positive changes whenever… and wherever… we can get them.
Most food manufacturers have until July 26, 2018, to roll out the changes to nutrition labels.