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Updates to U.S. Nutrition Labels

By Kim Robson:

On May 20, 2016, the FDA revised the design of the Nutrition Facts label for U.S. food packaging. The new labeling rules will be required on most food within the next two years, by July 26, 2018. Smaller companies that make less than $10 million in annual sales will have until July of 2019 to update their labels.

The original Nutrition Facts label was created in 1990 and began appearing on food packaging in 1991. The label was part of the Nutrition Labeling Education Act, which sought to regulate misleading health claims on food labels. Since then, the nutrition label has come to affect the way we eat food today. The changes are meant to help us better understand what’s in our food.

Here’s the old label on the left, compared to the new label on the right:

food label

Note: The images above are meant for illustrative purposes to show how the new Nutrition Facts label might look compared to the old label. Both labels represent fictional products. When the original hypothetical label was developed in 2014, “added sugars” was not yet proposed, so the old label shows 1g of sugar as an example. The image created for the new label lists 12g total sugar and 10g added sugar to give an example of how added sugars would be broken out with a % Daily Value.

Let’s take a closer look at what has changed.foodLabel_

Serving Sizes

One important change to the new label is serving size. The FDA now recognizes that if you buy a 20-ounce bottle of soda, chances are, you’re going to drink that entire bottle. The new Nutrition Facts label takes the impact of package size on serving size into account.

The new nutrition label also updates package sizes. Most folks have no idea what 55 grams of something looks like, but 2/3 cup is an amount we can all understand.

This graphic helps explain the serving and package size changes:

Added Sugars

Another change on the new label: It breaks out natural sugars from added sugars. With so many hidden sugar sources on ingredients lists, it can be hard to tell how much added sugar is in a product. The new Nutrition Facts label solves this problem by requiring that food companies list added sugar in grams.

Not only does the new label break out the amount of added sugars, but it also lists a percentage daily value to help you put those grams into usable information.

Nutrient Requirements

As the graphic above illustrates, the new Nutrition Facts label also adjusts the nutrient requirements section. For example, many Americans don’t get enough vitamin D or potassium, so these important nutrients will now be listed on food labels. Subsequently, vitamins A and C are no longer required, since these deficiencies are no longer common.

Public Response

Food advocacy groups are excited about the new label, especially the Union of Concerned Scientists, who particularly applaud the added sugar labeling.

In a press release, Pallavi Phartiyal, senior analyst and program manager of the Center for Science and Democracy, said, “A percent daily value will help consumers to put the added sugar amount in context of their total food consumption for the day, and to understand whether the amount of sugar listed on the label is low or high.”


About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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