Make a trip to any grocery store and you’re sure to encounter vibrant colors of red, green, yellow and blue. Grocery store aisles are filled with food packages designed to grab your attention. Each calling out: buy me! While attractive designs and bright colors are necessary for helping products stand out, they’re not the most important part of food packages. The nutrition facts label is. Since January 2020 there have been a few changes to the nutrition facts label. You’ll need to understand what’s new to make informed food choices.
What is the Nutrition Facts Label?
Look on the back of most packaged foods and beverages and you’ll find the nutrition facts label. This panel details nutrient contents like calories, fat and vitamins. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines the information food labels should include. In 2016, FDA made updates to food companies’ labeling requirements. The new regulations took effect for large companies in 2020. Here are a few differences you might have already noticed.
We don’t always eat the recommended serving size. Everyone knows this, including food companies and FDA. For example, one half of a candy bar may be recommended but most people consume the entire bar. To reflect what people actually eat, on some food packages you can find nutrition information for the recommended serving and for consuming an entire package. This change makes it easier to determine the nutrients you’ll consume by eating an entire package without doing so much math. To make nutrition information even easier to access, we can also find serving information in larger, more bold types.
The new label displays calorie content in larger types. This change was likely made in hopes that people would pay a bit more attention to the number of calories they’re taking in. In contrast, there’s a bit less information about calories on the label too. You can no longer find information on “calories from fat”. This could be because our society is not as fearful of fat nowadays. We’ve also learned a lot about how necessary healthy fats are in our diets.
Not all carbohydrates are created equally. Carbohydrates include those naturally occurring in foods like the lactose found in milk. They also include carbohydrates like sugar used to sweeten foods. The new nutrition facts label includes information on carbohydrates from added sugars. These are ingredients used only to sweeten food. They add calories without many nutrients. Previously, you could only find carbohydrate content broken down by “dietary fiber” and “total sugar”, not “added sugars”.
You may notice some changes to the nutrients included on food packages. The nutrients listed on the old label included vitamins A and C. Food companies are no longer required to include vitamin A and C content information because most people consume enough. Vitamin D and potassium are required because many Americans lack proper amounts of these nutrients. Iron and calcium will continue to be included on the new label.
The percent daily values (DV) were also updated. These percentages can be found across from nutrients. Percent DV represents the amount of a nutrient a food contributes to the consumer’s daily diet. This value is based on the daily value or amount of a nutrient recommended for Americans (4 years old and older) to consume per day. DV recommendations have been updated as we learn more about food’s impact on health. The changes in DV have led to changes in the percent daily value foods contribute.
It’s important to understand the nutrition facts label to make educated food decisions. Changes in the nutrition facts label should reflect changes in our eating trends. As a whole, the nutrition information Americans should focus on looks different than it did in 1994, the year the previous nutrition facts label was mandated. This is because our priorities are different. Nowadays, our food challenges include things like consuming too many calories and vitamin D deficiency. Food packages should include information that will help us overcome these struggles. And now they will! The information on the new nutrition facts panel can be used to help health-conscious individuals make food choices that encourage well-being for years to come.