Nutrition Facts Labels Get an Update

image of a bunch of different fruits and vegetablesNutrition labels are everywhere, breaking down the nutritional content of our foods so we know exactly what we’re getting from them. They are meant to make it easy to identify whether a food is good for us or not, but the way they are set up can make finding exactly the information you want a search and doesn’t reflect the latest knowledge about nutritional health. Nutrition labels have been used for over 20 years, and in all that time they’ve barely changed. But that ends now. The FDA has finalized a new version of the nutrition facts label that reorganizes some of the content, makes the most important information more clear, and better represents how people actually eat. So what will be different, and how will it help the average person? We’ll explain it all, and how these changes will lead to updates for supplement labels as well.

There are three main categories of changes, the design (how the label itself looks and the way the information is organized), the nutrition information (listed ingredients and daily recommended values updated to reflect current nutrition science), and the serving sizes. Each will be changed in ways that allow the labels to better tell us what is in our foods and how to fulfill our nutritional needs.

A refreshed design

image of the old nutrition facts label on the left and the new version on the right for comparison

A sample of what the new nutrition facts label, on the right, will look like compared to the older version on the left. (click to view larger)

The new labels will not look radically different, you will still know right away that you’re looking at nutrition facts. But the information provided will be better organized, and the most important details such as calorie amount, serving size, and servings per container will be in a larger and bolder font. This way if you’re just looking quickly for the most basic nutritional info you can gain it faster and with less effort than before.

The footnote will be rephrased to explain what percent daily values mean more clearly, allowing you to utilize the percent daily values in relation to your personal calorie goals. To further help consumers know exactly how much of the vitamins and minerals are in a serving the actual amounts of vitamins and minerals will be required for vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. These are considered the most important and therefore required, but this information is encouraged to be shown for all vitamins and minerals. This will eliminate the need to calculate the actual amount from the daily percent value.

Overall the design changes make the information provided by nutrition facts clearer and more accessible to all.

Updated nutrition information

In two decades since nutrition fact labels started new discoveries in nutrition science and changes in our society have made the older guidelines inaccurate. The new labels will show information on nutrients in ways effect our health in today’s world. This includes specifying the amount of added sugars in a food. Research has shown that it is increasingly difficult to meet your daily nutritional needs while staying in healthy calorie ranges if you consume more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars. To combat added sugars undermining a healthy diet, the exact amount will now be clear on labels so you can know how much you’re getting and what to avoid.

Certain nutrients have always been required to be declared on the label, but as American diets change the specific nutrients should and now will change as well. Vitamin D and potassium have been added to calcium and iron as the required nutrients to reflect these nutrients consistently lacking in American diets. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required, in the 1990’s these vitamins were lacking in average diets and added to the required nutrients list. But anymore deficiencies of both of these vitamins are rare. Manufacturers can and are encouraged to include the other nutrients in their foods beyond what is required.

Daily values for nutrients are changing to meet the latest research as well. What is considered proper daily amounts for nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D differ from what they were when nutrition fact labels started. The goal is to make nutrition labels more accurate in reflecting what we need for a healthy diet and responding to new information with changes so that they can remain as accurate as possible going forward.

More realistic serving sizes

Serving size requirements were last updated in 1993, and by law serving sizes must reflect the amount of the food a person typically eats a time: not the healthiest serving size. How much people eat and drink in single servings has changed in the years since, and to better show what we’re getting for how much we eat the serving sizes are changing to match. Depending on the food the serving size can increase, decrease, or stay the same. Some people are concerned that larger serving sizes will encourage people to eat more, thinking the larger serving size is a recommendation. But serving sizes on packages are meant to reflect how much a person usually eats, not what is healthiest for any one individual. That is, and always was, up to each of us to know for ourselves or consult with nutritionists or other health professionals to learn. Nutrient facts labels are generalized for overall health, but the nutritional needs of any one person can vary from the next.

How much we eat or drink can depend on the packaging of the product. Until now a 20 oz bottle of soda was divided into multiple servings on the labels even though most people drink the entire bottle in one sitting. From now on packages that contain 1 and 2 servings, such as the 20 oz soda or a 15 oz can of soup will be labelled as one serving. This will help consumers know the nutritional breakdown and how many calories they’re consuming without having to double or triple what the nutrition facts says.

The final change is that products that are consumed as one serving or multiple servings regularly will have dual column nutritional facts to show both. So consumers who divide the product into servings will know the exact amounts of their servings and those who consume it in one serving still know their amounts clearly and without calculations.

The Change is Coming Soon

So when should you expect to start seeing these new labels? Manufacturers will be required to adopt the new label setup by July 26th 2018, so between now and then nutrition labels will slowly be updated across all the foods and drinks we see. And this is just the beginning, the FDA is revising the guidelines for supplement fact labels as well so that they can better represent daily recommended values and highlight the most important nutrients.

What do you think of the changes? Do any seem unnecessary or like they could be done a better way? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

By Samantha Dillon, DR Vitamin Solutions