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Updated food labels help with food choices

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For over 25 years the Nutrition Facts label has been part of our food landscape. With the exception of a minor addition in 2006, to require the amount of trans-fat per serving, the Nutrition Facts label has not changed from the original 1994 version.

Much has changed in how people eat as well as nutrition and health research, which gives better insight to the amounts of nutrients are in our foods today.

As of Jan. 1, the updated Nutrition Facts label is now required on packaged foods. (Food manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have an additional year to comply.)

WHAT HAS CHANGED? While the overall layout and appearance of the Nutrition Facts label is similar to the original, there are changes reflected on the new label that will help the general public understand what they are eating.

The two biggest changes to the label, literally, are the bolder, larger font of the serving size and calories per serving. When looking at the label, the number of calories per serving is the first thing people will notice due to the much larger font, not just compared to the original label, but in the context of all the other information on the label.

The serving size is also larger. This is to emphasize that not all packages are single servings. With the previous label it wasn’t always clear to the consumer that the package contained multiple servings and the calories listed was not for the serving size assumed, but a specific amount. The number of servings per container is also slightly larger to help the consumer see how many servings are in the entire package or container.

SERVING SIZES: What many people confuse about serving sizes is that the amounts listed throughout the label is reflects that serving. For example, if the label list that one serving of ice cream is one-cup, this is not stating one-cup is the amount people should eat. This is merely stating that the calorie, total fat, total carbohydrate, etc., is what the one-cup contains. The serving size is not a recommendation of how much to eat, but the amount people are most likely to eat as a single serving.

NEW LINE – ADDED SUGARS: Another major change is the addition of a line for added sugars. Under total carbohydrates, the indented dietary fiber and total sugars are types of carbohydrates. This is reflected on both the original and new label. While adding up the grams of fiber and total sugar may not add up to the total carbohydrates, the difference is usually starch, the third form of carbohydrate.

The addition of the added sugars line will help consumers with noting the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Take yogurt for example: yogurt is made from milk which has naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Milk itself has no added sugars so plain, unflavored yogurt would only contain naturally occurring sugar from the milk it is made from. Naturally occurring sugar isn’t the type of sugar that most people are overconsuming.

Then consider flavored yogurt, such as fruit or vanilla. The line for total sugar will include both the naturally occurring sugar from the milk and any added sugars from the flavoring. The new label the line for total sugar will still have the combination of both naturally occurring and added sugars, but the additional indented line under total sugars will state includes (amount) added sugars.

While it is not necessary to eliminate all added sugars, most Americans could benefit from reducing their overall intake. This addition will ideally help consumers with identifying that not all sugars need reducing, just added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are also found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products.

CERTAIN VITAMINS AND MINERALS: Sodium, calcium and iron are still part of the label with sodium listed above total carbohydrates. New to the label is vitamin D and potassium. Vitamin D is a nutrient that many Americans are not able to get enough of through food and this addition will help consumers identify good sources of it.

While sodium is prolific in the American diet, potassium is often far below recommended. The addition of potassium to the label will also help consumers with identifying sources of potassium. Hint: potassium is found in many foods besides bananas.

In addition to updating which vitamins and minerals are listed near the bottom of the label, the actual amounts in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg) are also listed rather than just the percent daily value.

ADDITIONAL NUTRIENTS: It is impossible to list all the nutrients on a Nutrition Facts label. Some companies will list many additional nutrients on their labels voluntarily. This does not make the food healthier. Many foods will have the additional nutrients listed, but it is not required.

WHAT THE LABEL DOESN’T SAY: It is impossible to list the specific recommendations for the entire population. Depending on the nutrient, the amount a person needs is different base on age, stage of life (such as pregnancy), sex, disease state, and activity levels. The daily values (DV) that are listed as a percentage on the right side of the Nutrition Facts label are listed as part of a 2,000-calorie diet for general nutrition advice and information. This is not stating that everyone needs to follow a 2,000-calorie diet or that the %DV applies to them. It is a reference amount not a recommendation.

The new updated label on foods is designed to help consumers better understand what they are eating. It is not the only tool to help people with their food and nutrition, but one of many.

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Shelley Rael, MS RDN LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist in Albuquerque and can often be found discovering new food and drink experiences in New Mexico and beyond. She is the author of “The One-Pot Weight Loss Plan” now available on You can learn more about her at