Do you rely on nutrition labels to help make decisions about the foods you eat? Or, do you find packaging so confusing that you ignore the label information altogether?
Regardless of your approach, new and improved nutrition facts labeling finalized last week by the FDA will help you to make healthier food choices.
In the past 20 years, the nutrition facts have not changed but eating patterns have. On many packaged foods, the nutrition facts don’t reflect how much you normally would consume on an eating occasion. Are you really only going to eat ½ cup of ice cream or 8 chips?
Current nutrition facts are also misleading. Just pick up a bottle of juice. Although the beverage is marketed as a single serving, the nutrition facts are based on the package containing 1 ½ to 2 servings. In other words, double the calories.
The new nutrition facts attempts to address these issues along with incorporating updated information about nutrition science.
Here’s a recap of the new food labeling which you’ll start to see by 2018:
The font used for “Calories” is much larger and in bold. “Calories from Fat” will be removed because research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount. However, the label will still include information on “Total Fat”, “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat”.
The font used for “Serving Size” is larger and in bold. Serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. For example, the reference for a serving of soda has increased from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.
For packages that are between one and two servings, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving. For packages that are larger than one serving but could be consumed in one or multiple sittings, the amount of calories and nutrients on a per serving and on a per package basis must be provided.
A breakdown of “Total Carbohydrates” will now include “Added Sugars” in grams and as a percent of Daily Value. Until now, this information was not available (just Dietary Fibers and Sugars).
Our increased consumption of added sugars is believed to play a role in elevated rates of obesity.
The American Heart Association recommends 100 calories a day from Added Sugars for women (or 25 grams or 6 ½ teaspoons) and 150 calories a day for men (or 37.5 grams or 9 ½ teaspoons). That is not much! And, once you start reading labels, you’ll be astonished at just how much added sugars contributes to your diet on a daily basis.
Here’s a reality check: A 20 oz. bottle of Coke would show that it has 65g of Added Sugars or 130% of the Daily Values! Check out Sugar Stacks to see how much sugar is in all sorts of foods.
Added sugars is a number you must pay attention to and with the new labeling it will make it much easier. If you want to stay within your calorie goal, then keep added sugars well below 10% of your total daily calories.
Vitamins & Minerals
In addition to % Daily Value, the actual amount of vitamin D and potassium will now be declared. Based on the national nutrition surveys, many people are not getting enough of these nutrients. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required to be declared on the nutrition facts because deficiencies of these vitamins are rare.
Footnote on Daily Values
The footnote on the bottom of each nutrition panel has been updated to better explain Daily Values:
“The % Daily Value (DV) 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.”
One of the best ways to eat healthy is by reading labels. But, don’t wait until these changes go into effect. Start now! An added benefit? As studies have shown, people who read food labels – women in particular – are thinner than those who don’t.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.