Changes are in the works for the Nutrition Facts panel found on packaged foods. These labels, which we are all (hopefully) very familiar with, haven’t changed in about twenty years. I’d agree that some updates are in order.
Changes like this take time; we won’t likely see the new labels for a few years. While the exact adjustments are still being discussed, there are a few changes that I am hearing we can expect to see:
1. Large Font for CALORIES. The number of calories will stand out and catch your attention before anything else. I think this makes sense, since the bottom line for most people’s weight problem is that they are eating more calories than their body needs. While I’m not the hugest fan of calorie counting, I do believe that having a general awareness of how many calories are in different foods and how much you are eating are two very useful pieces of knowledge.
2. Serving Size Update. The current posted serving sizes are based on what you (and I hate to use this word)…. “should” eat. I don’t know how else to say it. They’re based on what some people, somehow decided was a good idea for an amount to eat of a particular food. And there is nothing wrong with this. Some sort of measurement guidelines are necessary, …except for the fact that here we are twenty years into the future and most consumers have decided that what they believe is a good amount to eat is much more than what is posted on the package. The new label will more realistically reflect what people actually eat. For example, the existing serving for ice cream is a half cup. The new serving will be 1 cup, something more similar to what people really eat. Of course, with the serving sizes increased you will also see a corresponding larger number of calories to match this.
3. Single Serving Packages. This refers to containers/packages of food that most people will eat in one sitting when in reality they contain two or more servings. The new calorie number you’ll see will indicate the total number of calories in the whole thing rather than showing the breakdown of calories in each serving. For instance, the 20 oz soda bottle, which actually contains two and a half 8 oz servings of soda will show the calories in the whole bottle since most people drink the entire thing. The same goes for extra-large “single serving” bags of chips and other snack foods containing more than one serving but that are usually consumed in their entirety. It’s important to note that the FDA is not telling us to eat more; they are trying to raise awareness of the calorie content in the actual amounts of food we are eating.
4. Added Sugars Listed. In addition to total sugars, which is what you see now, the future labels will differentiate naturally occurring sugars (ex. found in fruit, milk) from added sugars (ex. from cane sugar, corn syrup). Currently you can’t tell the difference and there IS a difference. For example, if you look at a cereal whose ingredient list contains raisins as well as sugar– the current number of grams you see under “sugars” does not tell you how many are from raisins (a healthy, whole food!) and how many are added (refined/highly processed, the kind you want to limit). In the future, the label will say how much sugar is added to a food.
I think these are all positive changes. Will this alter how people eat or help people with their weight struggles? Hopefully somewhat, it’s really tough to say. I think that if you are a person who cares about health and nutrition, then you already know how to interpret the current nutrition facts panel and it might not change a whole lot for you. If you’re not that person, then taking notice of the new label changes may make you stop and think harder about what you’re eating. It might trigger a fresh awareness and a new perspective of your eating habits. It could really generate some behavior changes that will make a difference. Change is good!