Start Sizing Up The New Nutrition Label

For years, we’ve had a love-hate relationship with the nutrition facts label. Sure, it provides some helpful nutrition insights. But many people find it confusing, not to mention lacking important information. Added sugars, anyone? 

Now there’s a new nutrition label that promises more current, realistic data. But is it really better? “Perfect it’s not—but it is improved,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It—Taking You From Label To Table. “However, unless you become familiar with how to read the label, old or new, it will still look overwhelming.” 

Here are the biggest changes you’ll find on the new nutrition label. Plus, how to make it work for you:

Calories. Previously, tiny print made calorie info easy to miss—not great if your goal is weight management. Now, calorie counts are front and center with bigger, bolder type. What you won’t find anymore are “calories from fat” since the latest science says the type of fat matters more than the amount.

Servings per container. Say goodbye to small bags of chips or 12-ounce bottles of soda that list two servings per package. Now, anything you’d typically eat or drink in one sitting counts as a single serving. And if it’s ambiguous, like say a 24-ounce bottle of sweet tea, a two-column label will provide stats for one serving and for the whole package.  

Serving size. Like calories, you’ll also find a more prominent type here. Serving sizes are also somewhat more realistic, especially for things like ice cream, cereal, bagels, and soda. But they’re not foolproof. “The serving sizes listed are not necessarily the amounts you might eat,” says Taub-Dix. “For instance, if the serving size for pasta says half a cup but you eat one to one and a half cups, you’ll need to multiply the numbers on the package by three to see what you’ve really consumed.”

Sugar. A much anticipated “added sugars” line reveals how many grams of sugar are incorporated into foods during processing. That’s important, as sugar added to cupcakes or soda is hardly the same thing as naturally-occurring sugars in a nutrient-packed glass of milk or a piece of fruit. How much added sugar is too much?  A good cap is 10 percent of your total daily calories. 

Shortfall nutrients. At the bottom of the label potassium and vitamin D are replacing vitamins A and C. Why? “According to the FDA, this change is supported by evidence that suggests vitamins A and C are no longer required on the label since deficiencies are rare,” says Yanni Papanikolaou, PhDc, MPH, a nutrition science researcher and regulatory affairs scientist in Toronto, Canada. Instead, potassium and vitamin D get top billing as they’re bigger concerns.

Milligrams and micrograms. To help you understand how each nutrient contributes to your daily needs, the new label keeps the % Daily Value figure. But it doesn’t stop there. You can now find the exact amount of shortfall nutrients listed in measures like milligrams and micrograms. But is this information overload? “Milligrams and micrograms can be confusing, especially since people are not always familiar with how many milligrams or micrograms they need to meet daily recommendations,” says Papanikolaou. “The % Daily Value gives a better snapshot of nutrient requirements and helps minimize confusion.”

In the end, the most important thing to know about the new nutrition label could be the most basic. “People need to get into the habit of flipping their packages over,” says Taub-Dix. “Even if it’s just to glance at the label before tossing food into their shopping cart.”

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