The FDA announces a new nutrition label. Here's what you need to know.
You’ve probably seen plenty of memes that mock what it was like to grow up in the 80s and 90s. Those of us who aren't millennials actually do have a lot of good memories to cling to even if we've basically become a bypassed generation. One of those memories, however, is not our previosly unhealthy phobia of fat. I always say I’m a food lover by birth and dietitian by education — which means I've lived and eaten my way through the rise and fall of fat phobia. Twenty years ago we were picking up nutrition labels and reading them religiously for “fat grams,” and if you were really savvy, doing some on the fly math to determine percentage of calories from fat. Those. Days. Are. Over… Thankfully.
After years of debate and dialog, the FDA has unveiled a new nutrition label that reinforces what science has shown for years: fat isn’t to be feared, all sugar isn’t the same and serving sizes need a shape up.
Unlike the drastic change we saw when the Pyramid went caput and MyPlate came into play, the new nutrition label you see on food packages looks largely the same. The main difference is that it’s supposed to be a little easier to read by placing a greater emphasis on some key areas, like calories and serving size.
Most notable in my opinion, though, is the overdue call out of “added sugars.” The notion that all “sugar” is bad — i.e. if you pick up a label today and see sugar in it you should run for the hills — is simply nonsense. Perfectly healthful foods like fiber-rich fruit and protein-rich milk have naturally occurring sugar. When that sugar is lumped into the same category as, for instance, the 39 grams of sugar (nearly 10 teaspoons) in a can of Coca-Cola, there’s a problem. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories of “added sugar” in your diet each day. And while I don’t advocate for obsessive number crunching when it comes to eating an overall healthy diet, having some sort of framework to understand just how much added sugar is in a particular food can be helpful in deciding how much of it to eat or how frequently.
Also of note on the updated label is the removal of “Calories from fat.” Good riddance. By calling out the calories from fat, the old label was placing emphasis on the less important part of fat, rather than the more important point, the type of fat. Example: If you pick up a package of Little Debbie “Fancy Cakes” you’ll find that they contain roughly the same “calories from fat” as 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds. But clearly, these two aren’t equal. The difference is found in the fact that the cake contains 8 grams of saturated fat and the seeds, only 2.5 grams. If you're concerned about fat, let your focus lie there and in choosing to add more healthy fats to your diet.
Serving Size Shift
If all this talk of numbers and nutrients bores you or leaves you feeling nutritionally-confused, then pay attention to this last update. The new nutrition label will reflect what we actually DO eat, not what we SHOULD eat. I have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I think it’s good for people to scan a label and see calories reflective of what they’re likely to eat. But for the people who are looking for “guidance” on how much to eat, then this one is a miss. The serving size on the package will no longer reflect an appropriate size. I suspect that the former far outweighs the latter, so it’s likely a better change overall.
And if you really need some help in better planning your diet, understanding serving sizes or simply working on embracing healthier eating, consulting a registered dietitian in your area is a better strategy than simply reading food labels anyway. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to find an expert in your area.
Let me know what you think! Are you likely to take note of the new labels? Do you like the changes?
FDA announces a new nutrition label. @ReganJonesRD shares what you need to know on @HealthyAperture. Tweet this