Katherine Figel, RDN, CD

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Guide to New Nutrition Labels

Portion size and calories per serving will be easier to see in the updated Nutrition Facts label, which will also show added sugars.

Published by The Seattle Times on June 12, 2016

Most packaged foods will sport new, easier-to-use nutrition facts by July 2018. Think bigger type, more information on sugars and the end to the assumption that a small bag of chips is three servings.

While the ingredients and taste of your favorite packaged foods may not have changed, you may notice a spiffy new Nutrition Facts label on the product packaging.

I admit the Nutrition Facts label will probably never be a riveting read, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hopes the more consumer-friendly label will help us all make more healthful and more informed decisions around what we choose to eat.

While these label changes won’t happen overnight, expect to see these new facts on the majority of labels by July 2018.

In light of current health concerns, including obesity, the FDA wants to ensure we don’t miss certain facts. To do so, it has bolded and increased the font size of both the food’s portion size and calories per serving. Suddenly, that eighth cookie isn’t so appealing when we realize we are closing in on our fourth portion!

Another example: Nuts are packed with healthful fats, but a little goes a long way in terms of calories. Consumers will be able to more easily read the serving size so they don’t accidentally polish off the whole tin!

The updated label will also sport a new line for “added sugars.” This will help consumers distinguish between sugars that occur naturally in a product and those that have been added. When choosing yogurt, for example, shoppers will be able to identify which sugars come from naturally occurring lactose (milk sugar) versus added sugars in that (seemingly) healthful, flavored yogurt.

While current labels post recommended daily values for carbohydrates and fat, surprisingly a daily recommended value for sugar is not shown — until now. This is another helpful addition to the label. Knowing where a particular food product falls in terms of total daily sugar intake will help consumers decide when to save — and when to splurge — on dessert or other treats.

My favorite change is the requirement that packaged foods and drinks typically consumed in one sitting be labeled as such. This new mandate will help consumers more accurately identify what and how much they are actually consuming.

What does this look like on the new label?

Look for one of these presentations:

• The updated label will have two columns to indicate “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information. Consider a 3-ounce bag of potato chips. It may contain three official servings, but it’s more likely someone will consume the entire bag in one sitting — and that information is now clear.

• For packaged foods and drinks that are between one and two servings, such as a 20-ounce soda (one and a half servings), the calories and other nutrients will be labeled as one serving because the average person would consume it in one sitting.

• Finally, vitamin D and potassium content will also be required on the Nutrition Facts label. According to the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the majority of Americans are not getting enough of these two nutrients. Vitamin D is particularly important for bone health, and potassium may help to lower blood pressure. Individuals with kidney disease may need to restrict their potassium intake, so this new label requirement will also help them comply with nutritional recommendations.