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New nutrition labels at a store near you – what you need to know

By Alison Berg, PhD, RDN, LD

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government agency with the authority to regulate labeling of most foods sold to consumers, has passed a rule to change the nutrition label. This is good news, as the new label should provide you information to help you make healthy food choices.

There will be several changes, some more noticeable than others. The primary changes that you will notice are:

  • Larger type size for some nutrients, particularly calories
  • Changes to serving sizes
  • Dual column labeling for foods sold in a package that is larger than a typical serving, but might be eaten in one sitting
  • The inclusion of “added sugar”
  • Different vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom

Let’s talk about each of these briefly.

The larger type size of some nutrients should help you focus in on one of the most important pieces of information: calories. Despite all the food and diet trends that come and go, one thing remains: when we eat more calories than we use, we gain weight. And vice versa: eat fewer calories than you need, you lose weight. Well, for the most part. There are certainly some medical conditions, medications, and rarer situations that can affect this energy balance equation. However, for most people, this remains true. Therefore, the increased type size should help you tune in to how this food fits into your daily calorie intake.

Serving sizes are changing to better reflect what we normally consume. For example, the old serving size for beverages was 8 fluid ounces. This is a special order at most fast food restaurants, and at Starbucks®, the 8 oz “Short” isn’t even listed on the menu. A typical small soda at a fast food restaurant is 12 or 16 ounces. So, the serving size for beverages will become 12 ounces. What’s even more helpful, however, is that under the new labeling rules, a 20 ounce soda, must be labeled as one serving because most people would drink it in one sitting. The new rules indicate that foods intended to be consumed in one sitting, even when they’re a bit larger than the typical serving size (i.e. beverages 12 oz), should be labeled as one serving. That’s great news, because it means that when you pick up a package of something to eat or drink in one sitting, you don’t have to do the math to figure out the calories, sugar, fat, and other nutrients you will consume if you eat the whole package.

If a food is larger than a typical serving, but may be consumed by one person in one sitting or shared by two people, the food may include a dual column label to show you nutrition for one serving and then nutrition if you eat the whole bag. A good example is for larger bags of snacks at the gas station or convenience store.

You’ll also see “added sugar” listed underneath total sugar. This will help you see how much of the sugar in a food is added during processing for sweetness, flavor, or texture. This is good, as the USDA recommends we limit our added sugar intake to less than 10% of total calories consumed per day. Now you’ll be able to see how much of the sugar in your fruit juice cocktail or your kid’s favorite snack is naturally present and that which has been added.

Lastly, the vitamins and minerals on the bottom of the label have changed to include the ones that are of most concern for the public. Instead of vitamins A and C, vitamin D and potassium will be included. Most people in the US get enough vitamin A and vitamin C, so listing them is not as helpful. Vitamin D is important for bone health, and potassium is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure. However, many people don’t get enough vitamin D or potassium. Iron and calcium will remain on the label to ensure that everyone gets the recommended amounts of these vital nutrients.

You’ll start seeing the new label soon, as any new foods introduced to the market must use the new label format. For foods that already exist in the marketplace, like your favorite cereal, companies have until July 26, 2018 to make the switch. Manufacturers that are smaller will have an additional year to comply due to the cost, labor, and time necessary in making such a change.

Understanding nutrition and maintaining a healthy diet is a crucial aspect of wellness, as is engaging in physical activity. Therefore, a balance between the two will keep you moving more and living more!

For more detailed information, check out the FDA resources at http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm