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Breaking Down the New Nutrition Label Changes

As of January 1st, 2020, large food manufacturers (those with $10 million or more in annual sales) will have updated their packaging to meet the new Nutrition Facts label requirements (manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual sales will have until January 2021). The new changes are intended to make the label more consumer-friendly and they also reflect updated information about nutrition science and consumer behavior. Let’s take a look at these updates and how you can use them to your benefit.

Realistic Serving Sizes:

The new requirement specifies that serving sizes listed reflect what the average person actually consumes rather than what they should consume. These updates are practical and should make it simpler for you to understand exactly what–and how much of it–you are consuming. 

For instance, packages that are usually consumed in one sitting have a “per package” serving size and nutrient information. In the past, many supposedly single serving products, including granola bars or sodas, were broken down into more than one serving (and sometimes included fractions of servings!). This means that you no longer have to calculate how many calories you’ll eat if you eat the whole bag of chips or cookies. Hopefully, the transparency that this change provides will help you to make more informed choices about how much of a food or drink you’ll consume.

Similarly, for those in-between sized products, there will be a dual column label with one “per serving” and one “per package” section. Examples include 24 oz sodas or a pint of ice cream; these items are larger than a single serving but could theoretically be consumed in one sitting. We recommend following the “per serving” size recommendation in these instances. 

In addition to the serving size, calories are now highlighted with a larger, bolder font.

Nutrients now reflect updated dietary guidelines and scientific evidence:

  • “Added Sugars,” listed in grams, are now required on all labels. These include sugars, sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit juices–essentially, any sugar that has been added to the product. “Total Sugars” was the only requirement on the old nutrition facts panel and included both naturally occurring sugars from fruits or lactose as well as added sugars. This addition will reveal any hidden sources of sugar and will help you stay on track with your added sugar goals. Remember that the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 100 and 150 calories per day for women and men, respectively. So your target is roughly 24g per day for the average woman, and 36g per day for the average man. 
  • “Calories from Fat” was removed to shift emphasis to type of fat. Research has shown that the type of fat matters more than the amount. Dietitians recommend choosing foods that are low in saturated and trans fats and higher in unsaturated fats. The label will still require absolute values for “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat,” while “Mono-” and “Poly-” unsaturated fats will be optional. For example, if a product lists 1g saturated fats, 0g trans fats, and 9g total fat, you can infer that the 8g not specified are unsaturated fats. 
  • Daily Values of Sodium, Fiber and Vitamin D have been updated to reflect newer recommendations. 
    • The daily value for sodium has decreased from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg, making the percentage of your daily value on labels increase. This may help you to lower your sodium intake, and may even prompt manufacturers to add less to their products.
    • Higher fiber diets are associated with lower cardiovascular risks, so the recommended intake increased from 25 to 28g per day. 
    • The Vitamin D daily value also increased as more and more potential health relationships emerge that have informed the recommended intake of vitamin D. It is linked to prevention of chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as immune response and skeletal health.  

The nutrients we lack most are now listed: Vitamin D, Potassium, Calcium, and Iron

Since the early 1990’s, when American diets lacked vitamins A and C, these vitamins, in addition to the minerals calcium and iron, were required to be listed on the nutrition facts label. It is no longer mandatory that they are listed since deficiencies in these vitamins are now rare.

Instead, surveys suggest that American diets are now lacking in potassium and vitamin D. These micronutrients are essential to our health and deficiencies are associated with increased risk of chronic disease. You can often find potassium in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Aim to consume 3500-4700 milligrams of potassium per day. Vitamin D is present in eggs, fatty fish, and cheese, and you’ll want to aim for 10-20 micrograms per day. 

Ultimately, these Nutrition Facts label changes are aimed at bridging gaps between new scientific evidence, nutrition recommendations and consumer practicality. Straightforward and realistic serving sizes will empower you to view the nutrition facts with confidence and understanding. Pay close attention to the added sugars listed, as this can open your eyes to just how much extra sugar you may be consuming. We also encourage you to compare similar products and choose those with fewer added sugars, grams of saturated fat, and a lower percent daily value of sodium. Finally, taking a peek at the percent daily value of vitamin D and potassium will also help you to estimate if you are getting enough of these vital nutrients. Overall, we believe you will now find food labels more relevant and useful to your needs. 

Below are a couple of helpful graphics provided by the FDA:

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