If you've ever tried to puzzle out why a small bag of cashews is "three servings" or whether "Calories from Fat" is something you should care about, rejoice: Those ubiquitous "Nutrition Facts" might soon become more helpful and easy to use.
For the first time in 20 years, the FDA is proposing a major overhaul of nutrition labels that would emphasize calories, highlight added sugars, and present more realistic serving sizes.
"I really like [the changes]. I’m kind of stunned actually," Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health," told The New York Times. "My prediction is that this will be wildly controversial."
Here's an old label (left) next to the newly proposed label, with important changes highlighted in red:
1. There is a more pointed focus on servings per container. Unless a consumer sees that information, the rest of the nutrition facts are mostly useless — someone could conclude they were eating a 100-calorie snack while scarfing down what's actually three servings. Some packages may have two columns for all nutrition information, showing "per package" and "per serving."
2. The new proposal would also change the serving sizes for many processed foods so that they are less aspirational and more realistic. "Twenty-ounce bottles of soda would be counted as one serving, rather than the 2.5 servings often listed now," The Times explains. "And the serving size listed on cartons of ice cream, currently a half-cup, would be increased to one cup." That means calorie counts on some familiar packages would shoot way up.
3. On the old labels, calories appeared to be no more important than anything else. The new label's massive blow-up of the calories line underscores the significance of this information for anyone watching their weight or health.
4. One thing that's missing on the new label? Calories from Fat. This rarely helpful line was a holdover from a time when people thought fat was the enemy and should be a major focus of the nutrition label. Research has since shown that "the type of fat is more important than the amount," the FDA noted. (Trans fat is still evil.)
5. Since things like milligrams of sodium don't mean much without any context, the new labels would move the more useful %DV (Daily Value) over to the left. This will make it easier to see, for example, that one pickle has a quarter of your recommended daily intake of sodium. The new proposal would also update the daily values for some nutrients so that they're based on more current research.
6. Fat has taken a back seat in the war on obesity, and sugar has become public enemy No. 1. The new Added Sugars line would distinguish between naturally occurring sugar and sugar that's added by a manufacturer. Chemically, all of this sugar is the same, but the "added sugars" line would shine a light on some of the stealth sugar that creeps into processed foods like bread, salad dressing, and soup.
7. The proposed labels would require food companies to list daily values of Vitamin D and potassium, which the FDA has observed "some in the U.S. population are not getting enough of." These are important for bone health and blood pressure, respectively, two major public health concerns in the U.S. In another switch, food companies would be allowed but not required to list Vitamins A and C.
There will be a 90-day comment period to discuss the initial proposal. Administration officials hope to have finalized their recommendations within a year, "after which point food companies would probably have at least two years to adopt the new labels," Politico reports.