On Friday, May 20, First Lady Michelle Obama helped unveil the updated Nutrition Facts label, which is designed to help you make informed decisions about the foods you eat. With new information about added sugars—and calories based on portion sizes you actually consume—the new labels can help you make you healthier choices, one food at a time. The changes will go into effect by July 26, 2018, for most food manufacturers. Companies with less than $10 million in sales have an extra year to comply.
Here are the highlights:
- Added sugar is in the spotlight with total grams and percent daily value(% DV)listed. The recommended amount is 50 grams per day—and if you look at a new soda label you'll see how fast the grams add up.
- Portion sizes are based on how much people really tend to eat. The labels take into account that most people don't eat 1/4 pint of ice cream or drink 1/2 a bottle of soda. So now you can see the calories in the portions you're actually likely to consume.
- Foods packaged in sizes that are typically consumed in one sitting but that may contain more than one portion are labeled with calories for the entire package. Some labels will have two columns—one for a serving and one for the package. A 20-oz soda falls into this category, and I assume a bag of chips and a can of soup would too.
- Total and daily values of vitamin D and potassium will be listed, as many Americans need more of these nutrients. The amount of vitamins A and C will be removed because most people are not deficient in these vitamins.
It's important to understand why some of the new items were included. Added sugars are sugars that are added to foods in the manufacturing processes, not naturally occurring sugars in dairy and fruit. Added sugars have received attention as possibly contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic by adding extra calories with little nutritional value, and obesity can predispose you to various health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.
Potassium is beneficial for heart health, but many of the foods highest in potassium are fruits and vegetables such as oranges, bananas, and potatoes, which don't have Nutrition Facts labels.
Remember: Even though these changes are helpful overall, nutrition labels are only part of the larger picture. You still need to know how to interpret them. Education is key so that people understand what the numbers on the label mean and how to use them to make choices that benefit their health. Only time will tell if these labels promote better choices—keep in mind that some of the healthiest foods don't contain labels at all.