We’ve certainly been waiting a long time for updated Nutrition Facts labels that are informative and easy to decipher. First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, has worked to make nutrition and fitness cornerstones of her platform over the eight years her husband has served in office. She revealed the nutrition epiphany she had as a young parent, during a visit with her then young girls’ pediatrician, at the beginning of her stay in the White House. Her family needed a diet intervention and she implemented it. That among other reasons is why Michelle believes the long-awaited new label is a landmark achievement. But the question is, will this new label really inspire better nutrition and thoughtful food purchases?
Portion size and calories
The first thing you will notice on the new label is that a Calories in a single serving size will be bold face, a much larger typeset , and is more reflective of a true, typical size portion. The hope is that the portion size and especially the bold-face calorie-count will smack you in the face.
What may have been offered as a half cup size on the old label, might now be measured as two thirds of a cup or a full cup - since that is what experts feel is the more typical sized portion. The new more realistic portion sizes mean the calorie count per portion will likely be higher on many familiar foods. However, consumers really do need to see the single-serving calorie count to really understand just how much they may be choosing to eat. The hope is that the new count will curtail a second serving, or a larger initial helping.
You will also clearly see the single portion size and how many portions are in the entire package. Under unique circumstances, experts thought that despite there being more than one serving, a consumer might still,“eat the whole thing as one serving” (such as in a 20 ounce can of soda). In these cases, the nutrient values on the new label will reflect that single-serving mentality, displaying nutritional facts that account for all servings present on a particular food item.
You will also now see a line that calls out “total sugars” in a single portion serving. This revised value includes all types of sugars in the food item. However, the next line down from total sugars will highlight amount of added sugar per serving (which is typically the dangerous refined sweeteners). Food manufacturers were VERY concerned that consumers might add the total sugars to the added sugars, and end up with a much higher number, possibly precluding them from buying a product. This is why the word, “includes” was tacked on to the total sugars value, in order to indicate that the total sugar amount already accounts for added sugars.
Credit: Food and Drug Administration, HealthCentral
But let’s be very clear – most processed foods have too high levels of added sugars, which make the total sugars (even if it includes actual fruit-derived sugars) way too high. There is also a %DV or percent daily value of sugars, so that you understand how a serving of the food, with its level of added sugars, factors into your total daily added sugar amounts as recommended by nutrition experts.
Experts hope that in the case of soda or some other treat food, noting that the added sugars per serving equals 130 percent of thetotal day’s allowance may give consumers pause. Experts are hoping this is especially true for consumers concerned about weight issues or diabetes, or if they are parents trying to make better choices for their kids.
It’s important to note that ingredients such as fruit or vegetable juice, fruit juice concentrate, or the actual fruit component of jams, jellies, preserves, are NOT included as added sugars. Those ingredients are instead factored into the total sugar amount per serving. Some experts criticize that this will give food manufacturers the license to start adding large amounts of these types of ingredients to sweeten a food without adding to its added sugar tally. We shall see.
Cholesterol and total carbs
Calories from fat_,_ as a separate highlighted number, has now been removed from the Nutrition Facts label. Consumption of healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and especially omega 3 fats is important. However, even healthy fats need clarification in terms of serving size and calorie amounts. Fats that will still be highlighted, “per portion,” will include trans fats and saturated fat, as well as the other healthier fats.
When it comes to calculating carbohydrate value for yourself, you can typically multiply the grams of added sugars by the number four (since 1 gram of sugar has four calories), and then subtract the posted grams of fiber.
Vitamins, sodium, fiber
Vitamin D has been trending strongly in the nutrition and science communities as an essential vitamin that supports health. Updated daily values of sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D will be on the label. But specific declarations of amounts of vitamin D, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C will no longer be required. Sodium per serving is still clearly posted, as is total dietary fiber, though soluble and insoluble designations for fiber are no longer required.
So will it change your food choices?
It is recommended that consumers shift from highly processed foods (junk foods) to more real foods that are nutritious. It’s important to recognize that real foods and healthy foods can sometimes have higher calorie counts, such as nuts or avocados. If you choose to eat nuts, you still need to control portion size and you should choose the less processed version. Those nuances require additional education and contemplation, something that the Nutrition Facts label doesn’t offer.
Groups that were in favor of these new changes included the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This significant update was 20 years in the making. The hope is that you will no longer need detective work to assess a food product’s nutrient profile**.** Embrace the mantra to focus on foods that mostly don’t need intricate food labels. That food list includes: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean unprocessed proteins, healthy oils, nuts, seeds and legumes, simple dairy products and water. According to a recent study, poor nutrition accounts for more deaths and disability than any other single cause. The new labels must post on foods by July 26, 2018.
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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she’s been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.