The Nutrition Label: Old and New

Sticking with the nutrition theme this week, let’s take a look at the new nutrition label and talk about how to read it, some of the changes you’ll see, and why this is so beneficial for the consumer. Before we look at the contents of the nutrition label, let’s see what the old and new look like side by side.

Side-by-side Comparison of the New and Old Nutrition Labels

Right off the bat, we can see the new label is visually different than the original one. The calories and servings are printed much larger and easier to read. In addition, as we glance further down, Different nutrients are listed, depending on the food, and there is a better explanation of % Daily Value (%DV). You may not see the new label on all grocery staples right away. It’s not required until July 2018, so expect to see the old ones disappearing for the next few months.

Let’s break it down into sections and talk a little bit more in depth about each: serving size and calories, % daily value, fat content, and sugars.

Serving Size and Calories

Here we see a bold, larger print for the calories. It grabs your attention right away, instead of getting lost in the shuffle. We can see that bold font applies to the serving size as well.

Serving size is important as it dictates how we read the rest of the label and how much of each food is a serving. You may even be surprised at what “1 serving” is of some calorically dense foods, such as pasta.

On the top, a typical portion of pasta. On the bottom, the actual serving size of pasta. As you can see, there’s a significant difference!

It’s important to take servings into account so that you’re not inadvertently taking in more calories than you think. Especially if you’re trying to watch what you’re eating, if you track one serving but it’s actually two, you’ll be eating double calories, fats, carbohydrate and protein. That won’t help you out with that fat loss goal.

Buyer beware! Although the new labels are aiming to list more accurate serving sizes, there may be some foods you may not expect that are multiple servings. This is most common of “gas station snacks” such as grab bags of chips and trail mix. Some of these quick snacks can be 2-3 servings!

Percent Daily Value

The % Daily Value (%DV) hasn’t changed much from the old to the new label. The biggest alteration came from eliminating the excess information at the bottom and opting for a quick, two sentence summary of what it is.

However, this is one of the least useful parts of the nutrition label, in my opinion, simply because it most likely does not pertain to you! All of the %DV given tell you how much of a certain nutrient based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you were to calculate your macronutrients, it’s likely that you need either over or under this amount; this renders the %DV inaccurate.

For example, a female with a smaller build is most likely going to consume less than the 2,000 calories per day. Someone who is extremely physically active, such as a marathon runner, will need to consume more than the 2,000 calories per day.

Fat Content

Here we’re looking at one specific type of fat: trans fat. This is most often found in packaged, processed foods such as baked goods, biscuits, fried fast foods, and frozen pizzas. These trans fats are artificially created in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.

Trans fats are linked to increases in LDL cholesterol and decreases in HDL cholesterol. Higher levels of LDL are linked to higher risk of developing heart disease and stroke. However, they’re also cost-effective so they’re used in mass-produced goods, such as the pre-packaged bakery items.

Common foods that contain trans fats: fried foods, pizza, and other “junk foods”.

There are small amounts of trans fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products. In this case, more research is needed to determine if these naturally occurring trans fats yield the same negative health effects as those artificially produced.

Buyer beware! One of the tricky things with nutrition labels is the deception. There is a degree to which all ingredients are allowed to be rounded, either up or down, and still present those nutrition facts as correct. Let’s take trans fat as an example. If a food contains 0.5g or less of trans fat, the label is able to be rounded down to read 0g.

In a one serving food, this may not present an issue. But, many of these packaged bakery items are eaten as one serving when they contain sometimes up to 3-4 servings! That could be up to 2g of trans fat you’re consuming without even knowing.

Now, there’s no way to know, but it’s always best to be a conscious consumer when choosing foods. For bakery items, perhaps replacing store-bought with homemade goods so you know the exact ingredients.

Sugar Content

This is one of my favorite changes to the nutrition label. In the past, sugar was one line item listed as simply sugar. Now, there is a distinction between total sugar in a food and added sugar. (Note: The label pictured as a typo. The original label should read 12g of sugar, not 1g.)

Some foods, such as fruit, contain naturally occurring sugars. However, when eaten in combination with the fiber and other nutrients in fruit, they don’t always have the same metabolic effect on the body as eating a package of skittles. The body breaks down refined sugars in skittles quickly, creating a spike in blood sugar. The naturally occurring sugars are broken down more slowly, allowing blood sugar to both rise and fall more gradually.

Donuts contain refined sugars and apples are a great sources of natural sugars. Both have very different effects on your body when you eat them!

This is also important in some foods which contain added sugar that you may not thing about. Take dairy for example. Milk and cheese have a naturally occurring sugar, lactose. In the past, it’s possible when a customer saw sugar on a dairy label they attributed all to naturally occurring. This may not be the case; the new label will now show this distinction. Some dairy products, low-fat especially, have sugars added to enhance the flavor after the removal of fat content. As the labels start to change, keep your eyes out for the sneaky added sugars in unsuspecting products!

Overall, there are many good changes to the new nutrition label. I’m not the biggest fan of the calories being as largely emphasized, but coupled with the altered portion sizes, it’s a good change. As I mentioned, it is important to know that some ingredients are rounded and any fitness goal is about consistency. Even if the exact numbers may be off here and there, following a specific goal over time will yield results for you.


Have you paid attention to nutrition labels? Have you noticed the new label on your grocery staples? Let me know your thoughts! 

One thought on “The Nutrition Label: Old and New

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s