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Fast Facts About Food Nutrition Labels

Fast Facts About Food Nutrition Labels

The FDA’s updated nutrition label highlights calories, added sugars and required nutrients.

In May 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed a major overhaul of the nutrition label included on packaged foods. It was the largest update in more than two decades.

The agency required that the new labels be implemented by January 2020 for many manufacturers. Those manufacturers earning less than $10 million in annual sales, meanwhile, were allowed an additional year to comply with the new rules.

In short, the updates require labels to include bold, clear calorie counts, more accurate serving sizes, added sugars and more.  

Here’s what to look out for next time you’re in the supermarket aisle:

More realistic serving sizes
Serving sizes have changed significantly in the decades since the original nutrition label was created. With the upgraded label, serving sizes will more closely reflect what people actually eat—not what they should eat.

For example, while the previous serving size on the label of a pint of ice cream was half a cup, the serving size on the new label is now two-thirds of a cup. The calorie count will reflect that increase, too.

Bold, clear calorie counts
Calorie counts are now printed in large, bold type. The emphasis on more readable calorie information is intended to help address public health concerns like heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and to help consumers make informed, healthy choices.  

Fat quality, not quantity
Information about how many calories come from fat is being removed from nutrition labels. Instead, total fat, saturated fat and trans fat will continue to appear on labels. Research has shown that the type of fat in a food is more important to nutrition than the amount of fat.

Eating more unsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats can lower cholesterol levels and promote heart and brain health. Some examples of healthier unsaturated fats are those from plants such as avocados, olives, nuts and flax seeds. Fish, such as salmon, are also a good source of healthy fats.

Saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, can increase your risk for heart disease. Aim to eat saturated fats only sparingly, while avoiding trans fats entirely.

Added sugars called out
Even so-called healthier foods like granola, yogurt and fat-free salad dressings may contain large amounts of added sugars. These are sugars that are not present in the food before it was produced.

The FDA’s label requires food manufacturers to list these added sugars in plain view. Government dietary guidelines suggest that less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugar.

New required vitamins
You’ll also notice changes to the nutrients that must be listed on labels. In particular, vitamin D and potassium now appear on labels because Americans are often deficient in these nutrients. Deficiencies in vitamin D and potassium have been linked to an increased risk of chronic disease.

Vitamins A and C, meanwhile, will no longer be required on the label. Americans generally get enough of these vitamins.

Manufacturers will have to declare the amount and percent Daily Value for vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. Reporting on labels for amounts of other vitamins is voluntary.

Medically reviewed in October 2020. Updated in December 2020.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Learn How the NEW Nutrition Facts Label Can Help You Improve Your Health." Published February 10, 2020.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. "Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label." Published July 10, 2020.

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