Ever struggle to understand what you’re eating? New FDA food labels will at least help you know how much sugar you’re putting in your body.
If you’re one to count calories or if you shudder at the serving size whenever you finish off a pint of ice cream, you may be a fan of the new Nutrition Facts label that’s rolling out.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that the Nutrition Facts label is getting a bit of a makeover to reflect updated scientific research — such as how diet is linked to chronic disease — along with how people actually eat.
The FDA hopes the changes will help consumers make smarter decisions about the foods they eat.
Keep an eye out for added sugars
One of the biggest changes to the Nutrition Facts label is the inclusion of added sugars. These are the syrups and sugars added to beverages and foods during preparation.
Many manufacturers use added sugars to boost flavors in their products. However, in excess, these sugars present a serious health concern and contribute to the increase in diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in the United States.
Before this label change, different types of sugars were lumped into a total sugars category on the Nutrition Facts label. For example, many fruit yogurts contain sugars from three sources: lactose from milk, natural sugars from fruit, and added sugars. All of these were tallied as one figure under total sugars.
The new labels will distinguish added sugars to help people understand exactly how much they’re eating, which shouldn’t be more than 10 percent of their daily calories, according to the FDA’s dietary guidelines.
“The significance of making this part of the label is that consumers will now be taking these added sugars into consideration when they go to purchase a product,” Amanda Nighbert, a registered dietitian who specializes in weight management, told Healthline.
“This added concern will hopefully translate into manufacturers using [added sugars] less, which would be a win-win for the overall health of the U.S.,” she said.
Expect serving sizes to be more realistic
The new labels have also been adjusted to include more accurate serving sizes.
Certain products that contain multiple servings will list not only the nutrition info per serving, but the nutrition info per package as well.
These changes will likely be the first thing that catches your eye. The FDA is making these numbers bigger and bolder due to the fact that nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese. Obesity is linked to heart disease, diabetes, disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
“When a consumer picks up a 16-oz. bottle of Coke, in the past the serving size would have been 2.5. Who drinks half a 16-oz. Coke and puts it away till tomorrow? No one!” Nighbert said.
Consumers likely assumed that the nutrition info listed on the old labels was for the entire Coke bottle. Because the new labeling laws have been adjusted to what people actually eat, people will be less likely to get confused about how much they’re consuming.
“Portions are now more in line with what is actually consumed,” Nighbert continued, “therefore seeing these bigger, more accurate numbers will hopefully get [people] thinking twice about what they are eating and drinking.”
Say goodbye to calories from fat and hello to vitamin D
While the old labels listed calories from fat, the new ones won’t. Research has shown that the type of fat consumed is more important than total fats.
For example, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — which are found in vegetable oils and nuts — can lower the risk of heart disease when eaten in place of saturated and trans fat.
Lastly, because so many Americans are deficient in vitamin D and potassium, the new labels will also feature these nutrients. They’ll replace the vitamin C and A counts, which are no longer required since these vitamin deficiencies are rare nowadays.
“Many people fall short in potassium and vitamin D, so I believe that it is a good thing these nutrients will now be included on the label,” Summer Yule, a registered dietitian based in Connecticut, said.
“Few foods naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin D, so I am wondering whether this labeling step will eventually lead to more vitamin D product fortification down the road,” she added.
Food choices should look different for everyone
The updated nutrition information should help people become more aware of what and how much they’re actually eating.
However, what you should be eating is going to be different for each and every person.
“A lot of times the ‘better’ choice is going to depend on what the client’s goals are,” Yule said. “Are they looking to lose weight or gain weight? Increase protein and/or fiber? It is not going to be the same answer for every person.”
It’ll also take some time before you see these labels on grocery store shelves.
Under the new laws, manufacturers that make $10 million or more in annual food sales have until 2020 to update their food labels. Those that make less than $10 million have until 2021.
However, certain manufacturers, which make up approximately 10 percent of packages sold, have already started using the new labels, the FDA reported.
So, while this is a step in the right direction, many people may still find the nutrition info confusing.
Ultimately, it’s up to the consumer to learn how certain ingredients can affect their overall health and use this new information in their daily food choices.