FDA Food Labels: What do the changes mean?

After two decades, The FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) has changed the design of the nutrition facts label on our packaged food. But what does this mean for us? In some cases, we must re-learn how to read food labels, and adjust our portion sizes. For others, reading nutrition labels was never difficult, or a main factor when buying food. The FDA has released images to compare the old and new labels. Here are some key changes to keep in mind:

New Label - What's Different?

New Label - What's Different?

+ Increased font size for these areas:  servings per container, calories and serving size. They will now reflect what we actually eat.

+ A better description of what % Daily Value means (“The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”) 

+ Added Sugars will be included on the label, which can be defined as sugars added during manufacturing

Old label is on the left, new label is on t he right.

Old label is on the left, new label is on t he right.

+ Vitamin D and Potassium will now be required on the label, in addition to Calcium and Iron amounts.

+ “Calories from fat” will be removed, but Total, Saturated, and Trans fat amounts will remain the same

+ Serving sizes will reflect what people are actually eating, not what they “should” be eating.

+ Manufacturers will begin using these new labels by July 26, 2018

While many of these changes appear positive, I still had a few questions of my own. I asked Kristie LeBeau, RDN, RN, what she thought about the changes:

Q1: Can you explain why some serving sizes will actually be larger ?

The new serving sizes are meant to be more realistic. So if someone looks at a label & thinks "oh, it's 100 calories" but that's for a 1/2 cup serving, and they actually eat 1 cup - they got double what they thought they were getting. More importantly, the new labels will have a "per package" nutrition information, so if someone eats the whole thing, they won't have to calculate how many calories, for example.

Kristie LeBeau, Registered Dietician Nutritionist, Registered Nurse and owner of Fresh Approach Nutrition, Inc.

Kristie LeBeau, Registered Dietician Nutritionist, Registered Nurse and owner of Fresh Approach Nutrition, Inc.

Q2: The serving sizes will be more realistic to what people actually eat - do you think what people actually eat is healthy for them?

No, I do not think people eat the right portions. If they did, we wouldn't have such an obesity epidemic! But they need to know how many calories and other information are in a realistic serving.

Q3: What can you recommend for the average healthy shopper when looking at the new serving sizes in the grocery store?

In terms of serving sizes, regardless of what the label says is a portion, it varies from person to person based on what level of calories that individual needs. An inactive older woman may need as little as 1200 calories, where an active man may need well over twice that amount, so clearly their portion sizes are going to vary widely. One rule of thumb is to use the plate method, where 1/2 of the plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables, 1/4 with protein, 1/4 with carbohydrates. Also, hopefully all your food doesn't have a label! Fresh produce doesn't have a label and should make up a large portion of our diet.


Q4: What does this mean for people currently following diets, such as Weight Watchers or the Dash diet? They are largely based on the current serving sizes.

I imagine they will adjust their points accordingly. The dash diet doesn't depend as much on label reading, though sodium content can still be calculated with different portion sizes.

Q5: Will these changes influence the way you approach your nutritional recommendations?

It will only change my recommendations on how I teach label reading.

So why should we care that the nutrition labels have changed? Because it has the potential to become a barrier, especially when what we are actually eating becomes the new serving size, and that norm was too much to begin with. Kristie made a great point: all of our foods shouldn't have a label and fresh produce should make up most of our diet. It's important to understand how this change affects our purchasing behaviors, and how it affects others who aren't as health conscious (and may want to be). Will people understand the increase or decrease in the amount of foods they're eating? Will it make a difference at all? Is changing the nutrition label a small step towards changing eating behaviors? Post your thoughts below!