Most food companies say labels are true and transparent, and what buyers do with the information is entirely up to them. Experts argue that labels are intentionally misleading, failing to accurately inform buyers on how store-bought food can affect their health.
In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepped in. They reviewed requirements, conducted research and set out to drastically change the way nutritional facts are presented to the public. “These changes are important,” says Alex Zawilski, a registered dietitian with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “They allow consumers to be more aware of what they are actually eating.”
While the FDA’s deadline for updating labels is not until January 2020, many companies are already using them. The biggest changes are:
- Adjustments to serving sizes
Twenty years ago, serving sizes were a lot different. Yet nutrition labels haven’t changed. New labels will more accurately match how much someone would typically consume in one sitting, helping us make better food and portion choices.
The FDA also requires that “serving size,” “number of servings per container” and “calorie content of one serving” are listed in a bold and larger font. These are deemed the most important indicators, and will now be easy to spot and read.
- More accurate recommendations
It’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it information, but the right column of food labels is reserved for Percent Daily Values. This important section offers recommendations, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, of how much of certain nutrients you should be consuming per day.
Based on new studies, these recommendations have been adjusted to better benefit your body. You’ll see increased numbers for calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and more — while sodium and total carbohydrates have gone down. Some values, like those for saturated fat, cholesterol and protein, remain the same.
- A clearer picture of sugar
Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease. But natural sugar, like that found in many fruits, is not the culprit. The FDA now requires that food companies list both “total sugars” and “added sugars.” This helps consumers know what sugar has been added during food processing, such as cane sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar or corn syrup.
- New (and important) labels
Some nutrients, such as potassium and vitamin D, were noticeably missing from food labels. This concerned health experts because both have been known to be too low in many peoples’ diets. By including them in the label list, as well as the Percent Daily Values, the FDA hopes to help increase intake of these nutrients to improve bone health and lower blood pressure.
- Clarification of fat content
The good fat/bad fat revelation will finally make its way to your food boxes. “Calories from fat” will no longer be listed, as research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount. While new labels are not changing the way type of fat is listed, experts do hope consumers will have a greater awareness of the differences.
“Bad fats,” such as artificial trans fats and saturated fats, can contribute to weight gain, clogged arteries, disease risk and more. Examples of bad fats are processed baked goods, high-fat dairy products, butter and meat.
However, “good fats,” such as unsaturated fats and omega-3s, can help boost your well-being and even help manage your weight. Examples of good fats are nuts, avocados, fatty fish, olive oil and flax seeds.