When glancing at the nutrition label on food packages, a few thoughts may come to mind:
#1. How many servings of this can I eat without blowing my calorie budget?
#2. Wow, this has very little /or/ a lot of fat /or/ sugar /or/ calories!
#3. What am I even looking at?!
If #3 sounds like you, don’t fret—the new and improved Nutrition Facts label may be able to help you out.
Surprisingly, it’s been more than 15 years since the food label has been updated. Even though nutrition and food research has progressed significantly, the last label hadn’t actually been changed since 2003, when the final rule to add trans fatty acids had been passed.
On May 27, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its final rule to update the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. The new nutrition label not only has a new design, but it also reflects current scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic conditions.
The new label was designed to help you make informed food choices and know exactly what you’re putting in your body. Here are the new and improved changes to the nutrition facts label—and what they mean for your eating plan:
If you look under where it says “Nutrition Facts” right at the top of the label, you’ll see that is says “Serving Size” in cups and grams, as well as the “Servings Per Container.”
A serving size is based on the amount that’s typically eaten during one meal or snack—it’s not a recommendation on how much to eat. (Here are sneaky foods with surprisingly small serving sizes.)
Servings per container is how many servings are in the entire food package.
On the old label, this information wasn’t as clear, which may have confused people about how much they were actually eating. In the new label, not only is the type larger and bolder, but the actual serving sizes are, too. The new serving sizes reflect what people *actually* eat. For example, on the old label, the serving size for ice cream used to be ½ cup, and now it’s ⅔ cup. (Score!)
Additionally, there are new packaging requirements for packages that are more than one serving but can easily be mistaken for a single serving. (You know, to avoid the shock factor after eating a bag of chips when you later realize it was four servings’ worth.)
With the larger, bolder font, the calorie counts on the new label are hard to miss.
The calories on the food label refers to the total number of calories in a single serving. Calories are how much “energy” your food supplies to your body.
As a general rule of thumb, if a food is 100 calories per serving, that’s considered moderate. If your food is 400 calories per serving or more, that’s considered high. Even so, it’s important to remember that the calorie-count has little to do how many nutrients a food supplies. There are some high-calorie foods that are very healthy, like nut butters and avocados.
Still, calories are important to consider when eating food, because if you eat more than you burn, that could be a recipe for weight gain.
Went over your calorie budget? Here are 10 easy ways to burn 200 calories.
On the old label, “Calories from fat” used to live right next to the calorie count. This number would tell you what portion of the full calories are from fat. On the new label, “Calories from fat” has been taken off.
Why? People used to believe that all fats were bad and that you should avoid any food that was high in fat. But research has shown that not all fats are created equal. The type of fat you eat is much more important than the amount consumed. In general:
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest type of fat.
Saturated fat (which you’ll see on the food label) should be limited.
Trans fat (also on the label) should be avoided.
4. Added sugars
“Added sugars” in grams and as a percent daily value (%DV) amount has been added to the new label. Added sugars are any sugars that have been added during food processing—a.k.a., sugars that were not found naturally in the food. For example, an apple has no added sugars, but your breakfast muffin does.
It’s best to keep added sugars to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories, according to the American Heart Association. That’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women, and 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons for men. Research has shown that it’s hard to meet your daily nutrient needs while staying within your calorie budget if you eat more than that on a daily basis.
Consuming too much added sugar regularly is also associated with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is cluster of metabolic disorders, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
On the old label, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C are shown at the bottom. These select nutrients are there because they’re nutrients that people tend to have a hard time getting enough of. The issue with the old label, however, is that now vitamin A and vitamin C deficiencies are rare. So the new label reflects the new research.
Vitamin A and C are still important nutrients, but because Americans tend to get enough, they’re no longer on the label. They’ve been replaced with vitamin D and potassium, because Americans don’t always get the recommended amounts of these nutrients. Iron and calcium still remain on the label.
The new label also includes the actual nutrient amount (in mg or mcg) along with the %DV.
6. %DV footnote
If you found the footnote at the bottom of the nutrition label difficult to understand, the new, edited version may offer you some clarity.
The footnote better explains what the percent Daily Value, or %DV, means. It says: “the % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
If you look at the label (old or new), you’ll see a percentage next to each nutrient count. That percentage is how much of that particular nutrient that serving of food offers. The percentage is calculated based off of the recommended daily amounts for a 2,000 calorie diet.
If these numbers still make your head spin, the most important thing to remember is this: Eat at a well-rounded diet full of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains, and limit added sugar, high-fat meat and dairy, and alcohol.