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Nutrition Label Changes: More Help To Watch What You Eat
Old and new versions of the nutrition facts label

The Food and Drug Administration has approved changes to the nutrition facts label on packaged and processed food, beginning with larger, bolder type to make it easier to read. What  you will and won’t find on the label has also changed.

Highlights from the conversation about changes in nutrition fact labels with Dr. LonaSandon, an assistant professor in the clinical nutrition department at UT Southwestern Medical Center:

Serving Sizes: “The current food label that’s been in place for about 25 years now is based on serving sizes that are considered standard portion sizes. The problem with that is most people don’t eat the standard portion size. For example, a standard portion size of ice cream is considered to be half a cup. So they’re going to change that portion size to reflect more like two-thirds of a cup, which is typically what someone will serve themselves when they serve themselves ice cream. So the calories will match that.”

Percentage Daily Value: “Basically that is telling you what percent of that nutrient you’re getting in that portion size on the food label. And that percent is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. 2,000 calories is considered a standard diet for most adults. The other piece of that percent daily value is that they’ve actually updated those numbers to reflect current scientific information about nutrient requirements. So, in the late 90s, early 2000’s, the Institute of Medicine came out with a new recommendation for several of the nutrients that we consume. Especially vitamin D, potassium and vitamin A was changed as well. And the current food label doesn’t reflect those changes. They’re still based on values from 1968. This new label will reflect changes for things like vitamin D.”

Why we need vitamin D and potassium: “These are nutrients that we don’t get enough, particularly vitamin D. But vitamin D is involved in every cellular process in the body. Potassium is a key nutrient for health when it comes to maintaining healthy blood pressure and other heart health factors. Calcium…will remain on the label. And iron is a nutrient of concern for particular populations, particularly women, pregnant women and children.

Addition of “added sugars”: “I think this will be a big shock to a lot of people. The current label doesn’t break up what is naturally occurring sugar versus what is added sugar. So take chocolate milk, for example. One cup of milk will have at least 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose. But when you add the chocolate syrup, you’re adding a considerable amount of white table sugar into that milk. The current food label would say something like 35 grams of sugar. But the new food label will separate that out. Added sugar isn’t just table sugar. It’s things like cane syrup, agave syrup, honey. All those little words you see in the ingredient label now will be represented in grams on that nutrition facts label.”

For more information:

Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label

Do The Major FDA Nutrition Label Changes Go Far Enough? 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.