Will New Nutrition Labels Help Us Eat Better?

changes to nutrition labels

If you’ve ever thought it was ridiculous that the 20oz bottle of soda you bought from the vending machine in your office contained “2.5 servings” I have some good news. The times they are a changing. This week the FDA, as part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, announced new nutrition labels that will be coming to packages near you very soon.

At first glance, the new labels don’t look too different from what we’re used to seeing today. What you’ll notice first is the percent daily value has moved to the left side of the label and the new “in your face” calorie number. It’s in big bold font right at the top of the label, making sure you don’t miss it.

New Information Added To Nutrition Labels

Apart from the font, there are two very important changes that come with the new nutrition labels. The first is the addition of an “added sugars” line. Sugars are the driving force behind the obesity and diabetes epidemics we’re facing in the U.S.. Knowing how much extra sugar has been added to your food is important, but this seems to be a move that was aimed more at the food manufacturers themselves.

Back in 2006 we got the last “big” change to the nutrition labels on our food. Back then it was required that amount of trans-fat be included on the label. Since that change, more and more manufacturers have stopped using partially hydrogenated oil, which was the primary source of trans-fat in the food we ate. These days you even see foods being advertised as “trans-fat free” or having “zero trans-fat”. If the new labeling results in the same shift with added sugars in our foods it will be a huge win for us all.

The second big change to nutrition labels will be how serving sizes are reported. As with the example of our 20oz soda being listed as 2.5 servings – the new nutrition labels will require a serving size to be listed as what people actually eat, not what they should be eating.

Should they really be changing the serving sizes based upon our bad habits though? You could argue that the new serving size requirements will make people think they can eat more. “Hey, it was only one serving!” 

Probably not. The old serving sizes didn’t make much sense in the first place and the new system requires the serving size to be what the FDA thinks is a logical amount “to be consumed in one sitting”. That means a 12oz can of Pepsi and a 20oz bottle will each be listed as “one serving”. I’ve never seen the most health conscious of my friends split a 20oz bottle into 3 servings, or split a grab bag size of chips into 2 meals. The new serving sizes make sense and will give you an easy and accurate reflection of what you just put into your body. No longer will you have to multiply by two or three to regret eating that whole pint of ice cream! The total damage will be listed right on the package for you!

Some smaller changes are also coming to the new nutrition labels.

“Calories from fat” is no more. It’s a relic from a time where we thought fat was the enemy and should be treated as such on our nutrition labels. With new studies showing that the type of fat is more important than the total amount, it doesn’t make sense to lump it all together on the label. In fact those old “low-fat” diets may actually be doing us more harm than good! Eating good, unsaturated fats may actually help prevent the accumulation of fat in our abdominal region. It’s with this information in mind that “calories from fat” was given the boot.

The vitamin section of the labels will also be seeing changes. The new labels will require Potassium and Vitamin D to be included. Potassium and Vitamin D play key roles in our bone health and in keeping a healthy blood pressure, and the FDA has observed a good portion of the US population isn’t getting enough of these key vitamins.

Next Steps

The Administration’s plan is to have final recommendations on the new labels completed within a year. After that, the government will give food companies up to two-years to adopt and implement the new labels on all of their products.

With the new nutrition labels the FDA and the Obama Administration are clearly targeting what they feel are the key factors to the obesity and health problems we face as a nation. Calories are emphasized, sugars will now be highlighted and serving sizes will be presented in realistic terms. What effects the changes will have on our eating habits and health as a nation remains to be seen, but this seems to be a step in the right direction.


Readers: What do you think of the proposed changes? Do you think the new labels will help Americans get control over how many calories and how much sugar we pump into our bodies? What additional changes would you recommend? 


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  1. Are ingredient labels treated as a seperate identity from nutrition labels ? I feel as though with a lot of consumers aware of the contents of their food these labels should be looked at and maybe made more clear or up to date as well. I’m gluten, dairy , and soy Intolerate so reading labels is what I have to do for everything. Even if something says one thing, it doesn’t mean 100% accuracy. It’s hard today to shop, I eat healthy , as best I can but anything besides raw fruits and veggies takes times to research on.

    1. Ingredients are treated as the same entity as the nutrition labels, but they have their own set of guidelines. They are required to list allergy information for wheat, soy and milk allergies. But all that is usually just a footnote at the bottom of the label.

  2. In Australia they just can’t agree yet on what changes they are going to make to labels. They talked about looking at food more holistically and using a traffic light system to make it easier for people but they haven’t agreed on legislation yet.

    Hopefully these changes in the US help but I still think more education on labels in general would still be needed.

    1. There always seem to be some debate about the labeling of our food here in the States as well. Thankfully they seem to have the nutrition listings somewhat figured out, but the public still needs more education on how to interpret it all!

  3. Great post, and way to be ahead of the curve introducing the new Nutrition Facts panels to the public! I’m not so sure you will see a change in regards to “serving size” other than it being more pronounced on the label. The FDA uses what is called “Reference Amount Customarily Consumed”, or RACC to guide manufactures in the labeling of things like serving size and health claims. you can find the complete list and explanation here (section 101.12): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2012-title21-vol2/pdf/CFR-2012-title21-vol2-sec101-12.pdf The issue with these established RACC’s is that they are based off of surveys completed in the 70’s and 80’s, long before we offered 20 oz. bottles of soda etc. It is this point that allows manufacturers to sell you one convenient bottle, but label it as 2.5 servings. One more link for additional information on the proposed new label: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm387114.htm

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