Image 1. Original label (left) and new label (right). (FDA, 2020a).
The updated design of the Nutrition Facts label can be divided into four major changes, as shown in Image 1. Serving size information and calories are printed in a larger, bold font, making it easier for consumers to see. Some updates have been made to the Percent Daily Value section, based on data from reports such as the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report which was used to draft the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Calories from Fat category was removed because it was deemed that the type of fat (saturated vs unsaturated vs trans fat) is more important. Modifications were made to the nutrients listed; categories such as added sugars, vitamin D, and potassium are listed in amounts and the percent daily value of each. The amount (grams) of other minerals can be listed at the discretion of the manufacturer, but vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium are required. The footnote at the bottom of the label also appears differently in order to clearly explain the meaning of percent daily value: how much each nutrient in a serving of the product contributes to that nutrient in the daily diet (FDA, 2021).
Understanding the update to Serving size is particularly important. The serving size is no longer based on the recommended serving size to consume. The updated labels now show serving size as the amount people are actually consuming in one sitting. This not only because people are eating more, but also because for some products people consume the whole package as one serving, even if the recommended amount was less than the package. For example, the recommended serving size of a whole packaged muffin may have been ⅔ of a serving, but since people would eat the entire muffin in one sitting, the entire package would now be deemed one serving. A serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup but is now ⅔ cup due to how much people actually eat. Thus, for packages between one and two servings, the label now reads one serving because people often consume the entire product in one sitting (think a can of soup). What about products that are larger than one serving size but could still be consumed in either one or multiple sittings? The FDA requires “dual column” labels for these products to indicate information per serving and also per package. Examples are a 24 ounce bottled soda and a pint of ice cream (FDA, 2021).
With the changes to Nutrition Facts labelling, it is important to take note of how much is being consumed. Since a serving size is no longer a recommended serving size, it is equally important to know the calorie and nutrient needs that your body requires. If you consume twice the serving size, double all of the calorie and nutrient information. If you consume more than your calorie needs, this could contribute to weight gain. In addition, Americans tend to consume too much saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, potentially contributing to adverse health outcomes. On the new label, the Total sugars category does not have a percent daily value, because it is the Added sugars category that has an established recommendation. The Total sugars amount includes naturally-occurring sugars in the product as well as added sugars. Added sugars are those that are added to the product during processing–sucrose or dextrose, sweeteners such as table sugar, sugars in syrup or honey, and sugars from fruit or vegetable concentrated juices. One tip to remember about the percent daily value column is that 5% daily value of a nutrient is considered low, while 20% and more daily value of a nutrient is considered high. The FDA recommends to choose foods that are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars more often. There is insufficient evidence for the FDA to recommend a percent daily value for trans fats, but it is known that diets higher in trans fats are linked to increased cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, so it would be intuitive to limit these foods more often. Because the FDA does not see protein consumption a concern in those over 4 years old, percent daily values of protein are not required for products unless they are intended for those younger than 4 years of age. Lastly, note that products that are single-ingredient sugars such as honey do not have added sugars; the product itself contributes to one’s daily consumption of added sugars (FDA, 2020b)
From the perspective of a personal trainer at UFit, the changes in nutrition facts labelling bring about two key takeaways: first, know your calorie and macronutrients that your body needs and second, moderation is key. Both complement each other. Meal prepping, or at least planning in your head what you will consume in a day (and track it in an app or electronically), can help you meet your calorie and nutrient needs while still enjoying the foods and beverages you like. There is a way to reach your goal without dieting and eliminating your favorite foods entirely, and your personal trainer can help guide those lifestyle changes.