Some labels will now list nutrition info per serving and per package side by side.

By Renee Cherry
January 02, 2020
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It's hard not to feel duped after polishing off a tiny bag of chips only to realize that there are technically two servings of chips in that one bag.

Part of learning how to read nutrition labels has always meant looking for the number of "servings per container" and multiplying each figure accordingly if you stray from the serving size. But new nutrition label guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aim to make the nutrition information per package—not just per serving—more obvious.

The new nutrition labels include two columns: one for a single serving and one for an entire package. (Related: 5 Things You Need to Know About the New Nutrition Facts Label)

Food and Drug Administration

Even if serving sizes might sometimes seem arbitrary, they're standardized based on what the FDA calls the reference amounts customarily consumed (RACC). Those numbers are based in part on national survey results, so they're subject to change. For example, the RACC of ice cream is increasing to 2/3 cup from 1/2 cup because updated survey results suggest Americans are collectively eating more of the dessert in one sitting than in 1993 (when the 1/2 cup RACC was first established), per the FDA. Foods don't have to fit a RACC amount exactly to be considered a single-serving package, though; anything that's 200 times the RACC or less can be labeled as one serving. Those foods won't have to carry the double-column label since both columns would say the same thing.

But some food packages contain more than 200 times the RACC, yet people often eat them in one sitting—and that's where the new nutrition labels come in. Packages that someone might "reasonably" consume in one sitting, but that don't technically contain just a single serving, will show the nutrition stats for both one serving and one package. Specifically, that includes packages that contain 200–300 times the RACC of the food, according to the FDA. Translation: You're more likely to see the new label pop up on that small bag of chips than a loaf of bread. (Related: Why Food Labels That Specify How Much Exercise It Takes to Burn Calories Are a Bad Idea)

Will *all* foods have new nutrition labels?

The FDA called for food manufacturers that make $10 million or more per year to start using the new labels by January 1, 2020. Manufacturers that make less will have until 2021 to make the change.

However, some foods will be exempt from the two-column format, regardless of how much money the manufacturer makes. For example, packages that don't allow room for the extra column (e.g. a large candy bar), or foods like pancake mix (which include an additional "as prepared" column in their nutrition labels) won't have to adopt the label, according to the FDA.

ICYMI, the FDA also included other changes in its new nutrition label guidelines.

You might've already noticed that even single-column nutrition labels are looking different these days. Calories and serving sizes received a larger, boldface type. Why? "We thought it was important to better highlight these numbers because nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese, and obesity is associated with heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and diabetes," the FDA wrote in a statement.

Additionally, vitamin D and potassium earned spots on the new nutrition label since Americans don't always get the recommended amounts of these nutrients (compared to vitamins A and C, which were previously required on the label), according to the FDA. (Here's why it's still important to stay aware of your consumption of all of these nutrients, even if they don't appear on the nutrition label.)

Finally, the new label lists added sugars in addition to total sugar. That's a useful distinction since added sugars lack nutritional value, while natural sugars can come with fiber, potassium, and other nutrients. (Related: Should Added Sugar Appear On Food Labels?)

Serving sizes were way easier to overlook—and even misunderstand—when reading the old nutrition labels compared to the new designs. Bolding serving size, and adopting the double columns, will no doubt help anyone who isn't privy to the serving size vs. servings per container deal.

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