Most food manufacturers have until July 2018 to implement the changes.
Nutrition Facts labels on food packages made headlines when the FDA ordered a makeover for them in May of this year. But will the big to-do translate to big changes in the way you make food choices? “I’m hopeful it will,” says Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It will be great if the labels can get people to look at the numbers and think more about their health.”
Grabbing your attention
The refreshed design gives calories and servings per container a starring role, in larger, bolder type. Serving sizes will also be highlighted, and changed to reflect the amounts of food people actually eat. “For example, instead of a soda serving being 8 ounces, it will be 12. Instead of an ice cream serving being half a cup, it will be 2/3 of a cup. When people see how many calories and sugar they’re really eating, they may realize that it’s too much, and hold back,” says McManus.
Likewise, for foods that come in larger packages that could be eaten in one sitting, manufacturers will have to use a two-column label showing calorie and nutrition information for both a single serving and the entire package.
Comings and goings
The labels will remove the “calories from fat” line while continuing to list types of fat, important since we now know that there are “good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and “bad fats” (saturated and trans fats).
And for the first time, the label will include a line about added sugars, so you’ll know how many grams of sweeteners have been added to foods during processing.
Vitamins A and C will no longer be listed; the FDA says deficiencies of these vitamins are rare. Taking their places on the label: potassium and vitamin D, since the FDA says most people aren’t getting enough of those nutrients.
The footnote at the bottom of the label explaining the “% Daily Value” will be simplified. That percentage tells how much a particular nutrient in a serving of food contributes to the amount recommended in a daily diet of 2,000 calories.
The labels also update Daily Values to reflect current recommendations for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D.
And no more guessing how much of a particular nutrient is in the product; manufacturers will now list the actual amounts in grams.
Do the changes go far enough?
“They are a step in the right direction—but more could be done,” McManus says. She’d like to see highlights of the nutrition information (particularly calories) listed on the front of the food product. “Some people don’t take the time in the supermarket to read the back of the package. Often, they review the information when they get home and realize it is not the healthiest choice.”
And what about whole foods that do not have labels, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish? “It would be helpful to have nutrition facts in the produce and fish sections of the supermarket, informing consumers of the nutrition information, and hopefully promoting these whole foods,” says McManus.
For now, she recommends that you take advantage of label information to keep track of how many servings you’re eating; look at the number of calories per serving and fit that into your daily calorie goal; choose foods that are higher in fiber; limit or avoid foods with added sugars (the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men); and remember that the Daily Value percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Modify the percentage if you usually take in fewer or more calories than that.