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For the first time in two decades, nutrition labels on food packages are going to get a makeover, focusing on sugar, calories, and portions rather than fat.

The proposed update, unveiled today by the Obama administration and Food and Drug Administration officials, is an effort to simplify the ubiquitous black-and-white Nutrition Facts panel and could have a significant impact on what Americans eat and drink for years to come.

(RELATED: Integrative nutritionist shares her food label wish list)

“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” First Lady Michelle Obama, a staunch advocate of childhood health issues, said in a statement.

food labels
New nutrition labels would highlight calories, servings, and added sugars in a food or drink. (FDA)

The update includes several changes to the current label, which was introduced in 1993 and now appears on roughly 700,000 products. At the heart of the changes is an emphasis on serving size and calories per serving, which will be prominently listed in boldface and a larger font size.

(RELATED: Why quality counts more than calories)

Additionally, the actual serving size of some foods will change. One serving of ice cream will change from one-half cup to one cup. A bottle of soda, whether it’s 12 ounces or 20, will be considered a single serving.

These changes are designed to reflect how much people actually consume, which is often more than they think.

“Some muffins, for example, list 1/2 serving,” said Kathie Swift, an integrative clinical nutritionist and director of the Food as Medicine nutrition-training program, in a recent interview with Experience Life. “Now, who eats 1/2 of a muffin?”

serving sizes
Serving sizes of some foods will change to reflect the reality that Americans eat more today than they did 20 years ago. (FDA)

The FDA notes that the revised serving sizes are not recommendations for healthy or appropriate consumption.

(RELATED: How healthy people decode food labels)

Sugar, a subset of the carbohydrate section of the label, would also get special attention: The new labels would specify how much “added sugar” a product contains. According to the FDA, Americans obtain 16 percent of their daily calories from sugars added during food production.

The “calories from fat” line on the label will also be eliminated. Saturated fat and trans fat amounts will continue to be displayed on the label. (While the FDA continues to warn against consuming saturated fat, new research has weakened the perceived link between saturated fat and heart disease.)

These changes highlight concerns of overeating among Americans and reflect a departure from the focus on fat, which was long demonized as the culprit in the obesity epidemic.

(RELATED: A Big Fat Mistake)

Advances in nutritional science have since shown that sweeteners, found in everything from soda and candy to sandwiches and salad dressings, are likely to blame for many of the nation’s health woes. Sugar consumption has been linked to diabetesobesity, and heart disease.

Dunkin’ Donuts glazed donut


Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki 6-inch sub


Starbucks Caffe Latte (16 oz.)




Clif Bar (Banana Nut Bread)


Yoplait Original strawberry yogurt


Craisins dried cranberries (1/4 cup)


Glaceau Vitaminwater (various flavors, 20 oz.)


Noodles & Company Pad Thai (regular)


Coca-Cola (12 oz.)


Jamba Juice Mango-A-Go-Go smoothie (16 oz.)


California Pizza Kitchen Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad (full)


Download a PDF of this chart.

(RELATED: Surprising sources of sugar)

Other changes to the label include updates to the recommended daily values for various nutrients; the actual amount of nutrients in the food, in micrograms; and the addition of vitamin D and potassium.

“We have evidence that people are not consuming enough of these nutrients to protect against chronic diseases,” said Jessica Leighton, the FDA’s senior nutrition science and policy advisor.

(RELATED: The Vitamin D DebateThe Lowdown on Vitamin D)

The proposed updates are set to be unveiled today and face a 90-day public comment window. (To read and comment on the proposal, visit The food industry would have two years to comply with the new standards, meaning it could be some time before the new labels hit store shelves.

Tell us: Are the nutrition labeling changes an improvement? Share your thoughts in the comments below or via Twitter @ExperienceLife. 

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