The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May 2016 announced changes to the nutrition facts panel commonly found on food packaging. The update marks the first change to the label in more than two decades.

Food manufacturers have until July 26, 2018 to start using the new Nutrition Facts panel. The changes are designed to provide additional nutrition information to consumers — and combat the increase of obesity and diabetes in the United States.

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What’s New with the Nutrition Panel?

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was signed into law in 1990, requiring nearly all packaged foods to bear a nutrition facts panel.

This panel lists important details about the health value of your food, including calories, cholesterol, sodium, and much more. All metrics on the label are based on a daily diet of 2,000 calories.

By the summer of 2018, food manufacturers will be required to include additional nutritional values for consumers, including vitamins, minerals, artificial sugars, and totals that reflect more realistic serving sizes.

Side-by-side image of a nutrition label

Photo courtesy the Food and Drug Administration

Displaying added sugars

One of the biggest changes, and one long overdue, is listing grams of added sugars, rather than total sugar.

These sugars are any caloric sweeteners that are not naturally occurring, including syrups, sugars, and certain fruit juice concentrates. For example, if you look at the label for a container of strawberry yogurt now, you see only total sugars. It’s unclear how much is from milk, how much from strawberries, and how much from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or other added sweeteners. The new label changes that, letting you choose a yogurt with a truly lower sugar content.

There will also be a percent daily value (DV) associated with added sugar. This is based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation that calories from sugar not exceed 10 percent of total calorie intake. This translates to capping your sugar at 50 grams, or 12.5 teaspoons. Keep in mind, though, that this amount is still double the World Health Organization recommendation to stop at 25 grams, about 6 teaspoons, per day.

Realistic serving sizes and full package totals

Have you ever looked at the label of a bag of chips and realized that those calories listed were for only 12 chips? How often does anybody stop at 12 chips?

Half the bag is more realistic, which translates to four servings on many bags of chips. The new label requires food manufacturers to list serving sizes that more closely resemble what people actually eat and to provide a “per package” column for food that’s commonly scarfed down in one sitting.

Listing vitamins and minerals

Labels will no longer have to list vitamins A and C, because few people are deficient in them anymore. However, they will now list vitamin D and potassium, because people tend to have too little of these nutrients, which are important in fighting chronic disease. The label must show grams, plus a percent DV for vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.

Updated daily values

Currently the daily recommended value (DRV) for sodium is 2,400 milligrams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet. That’s dropping down to 2,300 milligrams. The DRV for fiber will rise from 25 grams to 28 grams.

Clearer wording

Serving size and total calories will be printed larger on the new label. An updated footnote will also help buyers better understand what a percent DV means.

Removing calories from fat

Based on recent evidence that type of fat matters more than total fat, “calories from fat” will no longer be listed. However, the label will continue to show a percent DV for total fat and list the amounts of each type of fat.

Our eating patterns have changed in the past 20 years, and we’ve seen a rise in “healthy” food choices. The updated label will give us nutritional information consistent with current eating trends to help evaluate what foods are truly better for our health.

About UPMC

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