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Reading and Understanding the New Nutrition Facts Panel

Let’s face it, food labels can be really confusing. Consumers often have difficulty deciphering which parts are important and how to apply the information to their overall diets. You have probably seen some products sporting the new nutrition facts panel which has been slowly rolling out as companies change over their packaging to feature the updated version of the food label. The FDA is requiring several changes to better reflect the way people really eat and help us make informed food choices that support a healthy diet. The updated label sports a new visual design and reflects current scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases.

How is the new label different?

You will notice the calories are more visually prominent and bolded. The percentages of calories and nutrients you will find on the label are based on a 2000 calorie diet. If you require more or less, you’ll need to adjust them yourself.

The serving size is now more realistic.

The serving size and number of servings per container are more prominent. Yes, many packages that seem like one serving can have two or more! The serving size has also been adjusted to better resemble what a person would actually eat. For example, one serving of ice cream used to be 1/2 cup. The new serving size is 2/3 cup.

Sugar and the New Food Label

We as Americans consume WAY too much sugar. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the average person consumes approximately 17 teaspoons per day or 270 calories from added sugars. The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugar to 10% of our total daily calories (about 50 grams for a 2000 calorie diet) while the American Heart Association recommends a limit of 24 grams per day (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams per day (9 teaspoons) for men.

That means we are typically eating almost three times the AHA recommendations. According to the FDA, scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.

The new nutrition label makes it easier than ever to identify sugar and added sugars in your food.

Identifying added sugars on the label.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruits, veggies, and dairy products like milk or plain unsweetened yogurt. These nutrient-dense foods are encouraged as part of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, and the sugar grams found in them will count towards the total carbohydrates on the label.

The new label also requires listing “Added Sugars” in grams and as a percent Daily Value (%DV). The added sugars category includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as is, like a bag of white sugar. It also includes sugars from syrups and honey, sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices and sugar added to dried fruit.

People are often confused when it comes to the question of “refined sugar.” To our bodies, sugar is sugar. Agave, coconut sugar and pure maple syrup may be marketed as better for you, but they are still 100% sugar and all count towards the proposed daily limits for added sugars.

This is a huge improvement for savvy consumers because until now it was impossible to distinguish how much sugar was added to foods that contain both naturally occurring and added forms of sugar like flavored yogurt or a fruit and nut granola bar.

What about low and no calorie sweeteners?

Low and no calorie sweeteners like stevia are not included in added sugars since they do not provide significant calories, carbohydrates or behave like sugar in the body. That’s important for the more than 100 million Americans living with diabetes or prediabetes.

Since stevia is 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar, that means only a tiny amount is needed to achieve the sweet taste we look for in our favorite foods. That makes stevia or products sweetened with stevia an easy way to help manage the amount of sugar we consume.

Where do you find sugar alcohols on the label?

Since sugar alcohols fall into their own category, they have their own line on the nutrition facts panel. Sweeteners, like erythritol, that contribute zero calories per gram do not affect glucose or insulin levels, but they are counted in the total carbohydrate content on the food label.

That adds a bit of confusion, so there is a separate line for these sugar alcohols under the “sugars” line on the food label. To calculate the “net carbs,” subtract the fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrate grams. For example, Pyure Organic Maple Flavored Syrup (1/4 cup serving):

Total carbohydrate: 27 g

Dietary Fiber: 13 g

Erythritol: 10 g

Net carbs = 4 g

Only foods that actually contain sugar alcohols will have the separate line listed on the label, making them easier to identify.

Although the new label is more realistic and designed to be easier to read, when it comes to carbohydrates and sugars, there is still some sleuthing that needs to be done. We hope this breakdown clears everything up for you.


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