At long last, the new nutrition labels are ready for prime time. The changes have been a long time coming. In fact, it’s the first major change in the label since the mid-1990s. Now when you buy packaged foods, you can expect the label to look a bit different. How so? Here are five changes you can expect and how they could impact your shopping experience.
More Emphasis on the Sugar Content of Products
It’s no secret that most people eat too much sugar and it’s WAY too easy for manufacturers to add sugar or, even worse, high-fructose corn syrup to make a product taste better so you’ll enjoy it and buy more. The new label changes aim to reign in sugar consumption by increasing awareness of how much added sugar is in a product.
Now, when you read the new label, you’ll see the number of grams of sugar displayed as well as the percentage of the recommended daily value that amount of sugar corresponds to based on a 2,000 calorie eating plan. Recommendations are that sugar should make up no more than 10% of your total calorie consumption. The new label will help you keep better tabs on how much of the sweet stuff you’re consuming and, hopefully, help sugar lovers cut back.
The new label will also show how much sugar was ADDED to a product. As you know, there are natural sugars, those that are inherent to a particular food, and added sugar. On the old label, added sugars were included under total grams of sugar and it was hard to differentiate between the two. The new label will display the total grams of sugar AND the number of grams of sugar added to the product.
Larger Calorie Display
On the old label, calories are listed in small print. You might have had to get out your magnifying glass to see how many calories are in a single serving of an item. Not so with the new ones. The calorie count on the updated nutrition label is large and in bold print. You can see at a glance the calorie count per serving of a product. The way the number jumps out at you will, hopefully, encourage manufacturers to reduce the calorie content of their products.
Changes to Fat Calories
Previously, when you looked at a nutrition label, you could see how many calories of a product were composed of fat. This portion will be removed, although you’ll still see grams of saturated fat and trans-fat listed. This reflects the movement away from fats being “bad,” and the realization that some fats are heart healthy. If the last decade was the decade of low-fat, this is the decade of low-sugar, and fats are back on the table in moderation. It’s obvious that the low-fat emphasis did nothing to curb the rising tide of obesity. Maybe the focus on curtailing sugar will have more of an impact?
Serving Size Changes
Serving sizes have changed over the years and nutrition labels don’t reflect that. At one time, people consumed an eight-ounce soft drink at one sitting, but, these days, they’re more likely to drink 12 ounces at a time. The new labels take changes in eating habits into account. Now, a single serving will be listed as 12 ounces when it reflects what the average person consumes at one time. Manufacturers don’t like this because the calorie count of a 12-ounce soft drink is higher than an 8-ounce one and people might think twice before guzzling down a soft drink. Serving sizes will also be in bolder print – so you can’t miss them.
Vitamin and Mineral Changes
The FDA elected to remove the listings for vitamin A and vitamin C from the new labels, based on evidence that most people get enough of these vitamins in their daily diet. Vitamin D deficiency, however, is a growing concern. Therefore, you’ll now be able to see how much vitamin D is in a packaged product. Although most foods don’t contain vitamin D in their natural state, some packaged foods are fortified with this vitamin. Now, you’ll know at a glance how much you’re getting per serving. Don’t count on food to be your only source of vitamin D. With the exception of fatty fish, unless a food is fortified with vitamin D, it won’t have much. The best natural source is still exposure to sunlight.
Potassium content will also be added to the new label, based on the important role this mineral and electrolyte plays in fluid and blood pressure regulation as well as for heart health. Studies show that most adults only get one-third to one-half of the potassium they should be getting each day. Hopefully, listing potassium will create awareness. Don’t think you have to consume packaged foods to get potassium. The best sources come directly from nature – fruits and vegetables. If you eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, you should meet your body’s potassium needs.
The Bottom Line
Change is in the air – and coming to your local grocery store. It’s nice to have this type of transparency, but your best bet is to stick to mostly whole foods rather than packaged products. There are no advantages to consuming packaging foods other than convenience and the fact that they have a longer shelf life. On the other hand, if you shop carefully, you can find packaged foods that are healthy. For example, frozen fruits and vegetables are simple to prepare and nutritious, as long as you buy ones that have no added salt, sugar, or oils.
Limit the amount of packaged products you eat and feed your family and when you DO buy them, read the nutrition label and ingredients carefully. Hopefully, the new labels will make it easier to make healthy selections.