It just got easier to make healthy food choices in the new year. The Nutrition Facts label that appears on all packaged food was revamped with an eye to your needs — the first major makeover since 1994. Here's what you need to know, according to Mayo Clinic dietitian Angie Murad.

Some foods contain natural sugars, like fruits, dairy products and grains. But too often, the foods we eat contain added sugars, and too many of them. Too much sugar increases your risk of chronic health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. To help you see exactly how much natural and added sugar a food contains, the Nutrition Facts label now includes a line just for added sugars. The USDA recommends no more than 10% of your daily calories come from added sugar. Other organizations, like the American Heart Association, recommend even less.

For weight management, calories in vs. calories out is still the gold standard. The new label includes changes that help make your calorie counting more accurate:

  • Big and bold calorie count. It's easier to find the number of calories per serving — just look for the largest number on the label.
  • Realistic serving size. On the old Nutrition Facts label, serving size represented the amount of food that you probably should eat. For example, the serving size for ice cream used to be 1/2 cup. But Americans' portion sizes have increased over the years. So to help you calculate the number of calories you're actually consuming, the new label lists the serving size you are likely to eat. The new serving size for ice cream is 2/3 cup.
  • No math required. Packages that seem like single servings — like a bottle of soda or a can of soup — usually contain more than one serving. Previously, you had to multiply the number of calories times the number of servings to know how many calories the whole package contained. On the new label, the nutrients are required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting. In some cases, you may find a nutrition label with two columns: One column will display daily values for the recommended serving (like eight chips), and the other will display daily values for the entire bag of chips.

Recent research shows that the type of fat you eat is more important than the amount. So on the new label, the "calories from fat" line was removed. You can still find grams and percent daily values for both saturated and trans fats. That's because eating too much of these types of fats can increase your risk of heart disease. Aim to limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calories. Trans fats don't appear to have any known health benefits and experts recommend keeping your intake as low as possible.

Vitamin D, potassium, calcium and iron are required on the new label. Vitamin D and potassium are new additions, because research suggests that Americans don't always get enough of these nutrients. Vitamin A and vitamin C deficiencies are rare today, so they are optional on the new label. The new label will also include the actual amount (in milligrams or micrograms) along with the percent daily value.

The new label is appearing on many products already. But you'll probably see a mix of the old and new labels this year. Large food manufacturers were required to use the new label by January 1, 2020. But smaller companies have until January 1, 2021, to make the switch.

Last Updated: 03-06-2020
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