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Calories Per Serving or the Whole Package? Many Food Labels Now Tell Both

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter
HealthDay News

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TUESDAY, Jan. 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- For decades, consumers have often been puzzled by what a "serving" means on Nutrition Facts labels on foods.

Well, things might have just gotten a bit clearer. New labeling regulations went into effect in January, and on many products you'll now see the total amount of calories (and various nutrients) per serving, as well as for the whole package.

"With the introduction of the new Nutrition Facts label, a variation that consumers are seeing is the dual column label for some foods that can reasonably be consumed in one meal or snack," said Claudine Kavanaugh, director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The new label has "two columns, one for listing the nutritional facts related to a single serving and one listing the nutritional facts for the contents of the entire package," Kavanaugh explained in an FDA news release.

"We know that Americans are eating differently, and the amount of calories and nutrients on the label is required to reflect what people actually eat and drink," she said.

Not every food manufacturer has to adopt the new labels right away, but many of the products consumers buy will be affected, since the January deadline applied to all manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales. Manufacturers with sales below that amount have an extra year to adopt the new labeling. The changes to the Nutrition Facts label were first finalized in mid-2016.

Nutritionist Audrey Koltun applauded the changes, saying they'll "make the nutrition information much clearer to consumers."

"Some small packages of chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers, etc., look like one serving but the label may say it has 2 to 3 servings per package. Many eat the whole thing assuming it is an individual serving package," Koltun explained. She's a registered dietitian in the division of pediatric endocrinology at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

And Koltun noted that the Nutrition Facts panel has changed in other constructive ways.

"The serving sizes listed on the old Nutrition Facts labels can be confusing. Sometimes the serving size was listed in grams or ounces. Also, the print can be so small, one cannot read it," she said. "The new Nutrition Facts label shows the serving size (and for some foods, the serving size has been changed to reflect what consumers are really eating), and the calories in larger, darker font, which is helpful and it stands out more."

And there's one more important addition for folks watching their waistlines and their health.

"Another feature of the new label that I like is the addition of 'grams of added sugar,' which means how much sugar is added during processing versus the natural sugar already found in the foods, such as milk and fruit," Koltun said.

But she stressed that all this new information is helpful "only if one is interested and actually looks at the label."

If millions more Americans did so, however, it might "really allow them to see how much they are actually eating and make educated decisions about what and how much they desire to eat," Koltun said.

More information

There's more on healthy eating at the American Heart Association.

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