Will changes to food labels help you make better choices?

Posted On Mar 13, 2014 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Changing food labels

Do you read food labels? If so, you may be looking at a new format sometime in the next few years.  For the first time in 20 years, the FDA is proposing changes to the nutrition facts label. What exactly is changing and, more importantly, will this help you make the healthiest choice at the grocery store?

What is being proposed?
At a glance, the current label and proposed label look pretty similar. The most obvious difference is the calories per serving.  But upon closer inspection, there are numerous changes in the details.  Here's what's being proposed:

  • Calories per serving and serving size will now be displayed in a larger, more apparent font.
  • "Added Sugars" will be indicated under carbohydrates – currently "sugars" includes both naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and dairy as well as added sugar from things like high fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, etc.
  • Adding the amount of Vitamin D and potassium, micronutrients that many Americans are lacking in, to the bottom of the label where calcium, iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C are currently listed.
  • Serving sizes will more accurately reflect what people normally eat or drink. For example, a 20oz coke bottle contains 2.5 servings but does anyone portion their single soda consumption over 2.5 days?
  • Adding a 'daily sugar value'.
  • Removing the "calories from fat" line.

Will this be helpful?
It's impossible to say whether this will actually be helpful or not. Food labels are already confusing and changing what information they display isn't going to simplify them to a point where they easily influence your purchasing decisions. Instead of comparing fat grams and percentages of vitamins, take a simpler approach with the recommendations below.

What you should pay attention to:
The majority of our diets should be comprised of foods that don't have labels and/or have a single ingredient. It takes the confusion out of deciphering complex food labels and, more importantly, provides a diet high in nutrient-rich foods. Think lean meats, chicken, eggs, all fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains, such as plain oats and brown rice. Sprinkle in some foods with less than five ingredients, including yogurt, marinara sauce, and salsa, and you'll have a very nutritious diet. Additionally, pay attention to calories per serving, serving size and measure your servings. And please, please, please, avoid eating straight from the package!