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What's new with nutrition facts labels?

A woman in a grocery store aisle looks at a nutrition facts label.

Go ahead—judge your food by its cover.

Feb. 15, 2020—Are you trying to eat healthier in 2020? New nutrition facts labels out this year might make it a little easier to do so.

All food products made by large companies are now required to use a redesigned nutrition facts label as of the beginning of this year. The updated label is meant to make it easier for you to make healthy choices, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Here are some of the changes you'll see—and why they were made:

Realistic serving sizes. Serving sizes have been updated to reflect how much people actually eat and drink today. For example, the standard serving size for ice cream was previously 1/2 cup. But most people eat more than that in one sitting. So it's been updated to 2/3 cup. Likewise, the serving size for soft drinks has been updated from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.

Why do changes like these matter? They may help give you a better idea of the calories you're really getting from foods.

But it's important to remember that the serving size on the label is not necessarily the recommended amount you should eat. The changes were made to give you a better idea of what you're consuming, not to give you the green light to eat more. Learn how to picture proper portions of common foods.

Eye-catching calories. Some changes to the labels are visual. For instance, calorie counts and serving sizes are now in larger, bolder type—making them easier to find.

Comparing calories can help you choose the healthier of two food or drink options in the store. And staying within your daily calorie needs may help you maintain a healthy weight. Use this calculator to see an estimate of how many calories might be right for you each day.

Spotlight on sugar. The new labels now also identify how many added sugars are in a product. These are reported both in grams and as a percent of Daily Value (that's the recommended amount of added sugars you should limit yourself to each day).

Some sugars occur naturally in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy products. But added sugars are extra sweeteners—such as syrups, honey or concentrated juices—added to a food during processing.

Why the emphasis on added sugars? Research shows it's hard to meet your nutrient needs while staying within daily calorie limits when you get more than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars.

Needed nutrients. The list of vitamins and minerals that must be included on labels has also been changed to better highlight common gaps in the American diet. For instance, the old labels listed vitamins A and C because most Americans weren't getting enough of those at the time. But that's changed. Now research shows we aren't getting enough vitamin D and potassium. So they'll appear on more labels now.

All nutrients are reported as percent of Daily Value. But now, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium are also reported in actual amounts—such as milligrams and micrograms. And manufacturers can list the actual amounts of other vitamins and minerals if they choose.

Most nutrition experts still recommend that we get most of our nutrients from food. But some people may want to consider a multivitamin.

Old labels aren't completely gone

During this year, you'll likely see a mix of old and new labels on products at the grocery store. That's because food makers with $10 million or more in annual sales were required to switch to the new design by Jan. 1, 2020. But smaller companies have until Jan. 1, 2021, to comply.

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