Nutrition labels as we know them are about to change and for the better. The FDA recently approved a new design for nutrition labels that forces the food industry to be more transparent. The changes are set to take effect in 2018, giving manufacturers a chance to phase in the new requirements.

The most important change is the new line that identifies the amount of additional sugars in a food item. Most of the time additional sugars are hidden, leading consumers to eat far too many grams of sugar in a day. This change is in line with the US government’s announcement of their recommended limits on sugar consumption, which are approximately 10% based on current dietary guidelines.

The new labels will not only account for additional sugars, but they will also include the percentage of the daily value recommended for sugar, which they do not do now.  Americans consume far more sugar than they realize and this change will better educate them as to how many additional grams they are taking in and where it comes from.   Take yogurt as an example. Yogurt generally has a lot of sugar in it, but consumers are unaware of where the sugar comes from. The new guidelines lets consumers know if the sugar was added during processing or is from the fruit.

Some believe the label does not go far enough. They argue that sugar ought to be measured by teaspoons rather than grams. Grams are a metric system measurement, which most Americans find unfamiliar. Teaspoons on the other hand, are more familiar. They know how much is in a teaspoon, but may not have a point of reference for grams.

Additional changes include better identification of serving size per container and calories per package as well as per serving. Rather than appearing in small type with vague values, the serving size will now be visible in a larger font and be the entire contents of the package.  A package of chips will now read 4 Servings Per Container instead of Servings Per Container- about 4. In a dual column format, consumers will be able to see how many calories are in a single serving, so they can clearly see how many calories they will be consuming if they eat the whole package.

How many of us have bought a bottle of Kombucha with two servings in it and drank the entire bottle in one sitting? At first glance, the label may say 35 calories, but you overlook that it is 35 calories per serving. You drink two servings in one sitting and you have had 70 calories. Now, 70 calories is not much to fret about, but think of how many people fall into that trap with a 16 oz bottle of soda, or premade ice tea. The intention of the new labels is to inform people of the overall calorie count in a single package by noting a 16 oz bottle of soda as a single serving since most drink it all at once. This requirement applies to any packages that have one to two servings. The update reflects what people actually eat, rather than what they perhaps should eat.

Food Activists agree that the new labels are a start and a big win for consumers.  A bigger concern ought to be whether consumers will pay attention to the changes and make informed decisions or will they happily drink that soda with 90 grams of sugar in one sitting. Chances are if they are drinking soda in the first place, they likely aren’t too concerned with the amount of sugar in the bottle.

For those of us that are concerned with what we eat ourselves and feed to our children, this is a welcomed change. It will make shopping and smarter choices much easier.