Judging whether a food or beverage is remotely good for you isn’t always easy. You can spot the obvious junk fare like cookies, chips, and ice cream, but everything else seems to have some sort of healthy-ish sounding claim slapped on the package (Grain-free! Natural! Heart healthy!). Unfortunately, so many of these claims are just fluff. That’s why scanning the nutrition label is essential for making smart supermarket picks — and lucky for all of us, it just got its first makeover in 27 years.
In 2020, thanks to a requirement from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), all food and non-alcoholic drink manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual sales started using a revamped nutrition facts label on their products. (Manufacturers with lower annual sales have an additional year to comply.)
The new label features a number of changes that make it easier than ever to assess what exactly you’re actually buying — and how good you can feel about eating it. Let’s run through some of the most helpful new tweaks.
Added sugars are now distinguished from total sugars.
In addition to total sugar, added sugar is now listed on the nutrition facts label (it’s also listed as a percent of your daily value of calories). This has been a long time coming — since 2015, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have recommended limiting added sugars to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake, but until now, there’s been no real way to know just how much added sugar was in certain packaged food products.
However, while this change is certainly beneficial in helping you avoid many highly processed foods that could spike your blood sugar, don’t let it mislead you — something with 15 grams of sugar and 0 grams of added sugar is still relatively high in sugar, and your body treats most sugar the same way. That’s why, in general, opting for products with as little sugar as possible (even if it’s naturally occurring) is your best bet. If you need a dose of sweetness, you can always add a quality sugar-free sweetener.
Serving sizes now reflect what someone might actually eat.
Have you ever eaten just a half-cup of ice cream? Yeah, me neither! A long overdue change reflected on these nutrition labels is that serving sizes of many foods have been updated to reflect what people really eat. For example, a serving of ice cream is now two-thirds of a cup, and a serving size of soda has gone from 8 ounces to 12 ounces. This isn’t meant to make people eat or drink more, but rather, to give them a more realistic view of the number of calories and other nutrients they’re actually consuming.
Additionally, for packages that are between one and two servings (like a 20-ounce bottle of soda or a 15-ounce can of soup), the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume these items in one sitting.
For other products that are larger than a single serving, but that could be feasibly eaten in one or two sittings (think: a pint of ice cream, a 24-ounce bottle of soda, an extra-large cookie), manufacturers now have to provide a “dual column” label that indicates both the amount of calories and nutrients per serving and per package. So, no more “ignorance is bliss” — with a quick glance, you’ll be able to see what you’ve consumed, even if you’d rather not.
There are updated nutrient requirements.
You’ll see some new vitamins and minerals on the nutrition facts label. Vitamin D and potassium are two newbies, while calcium and iron will continue to be required, and vitamins A and C won’t be required but can be included on a voluntary basis.
While people generally get plenty of vitamins A and C, vitamin D and potassium are missing from a lot of Americans’ diets — and the revamped labels can give you a better idea of how close you are to hitting your daily quota.
Vitamin D, naturally found in fatty fish like salmon, is necessary for maintaining optimal bone and muscle strength, as well as a stable mood. Potassium, naturally found in various fruits and vegetables, including bananas and sweet potatoes, is an electrolyte mineral essential for heart health and proper muscle contraction.
Overall, these are welcome changes that provide some much-needed transparency in a food industry full of consumer confusion (plus, the new labels are just plain easier to read, which is always nice!).