Healthy, or Not? The FDA's New Nutrition Label Is a Lot More Upfront About What's in Your Food

The Calories Just Got a Lot Bigger

Published On
May 24, 2016
New Nutrition Facts Label

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The FDA recently unveiled its new nutrition facts label, which aims to make it a lot easier for Americans to see just how good -- or bad -- their food is.

"You will no longer need a microscope, a calculator or a degree in nutrition to figure out that the food you're buying is actually good for our kids," explained First Lady Michelle Obama in a video presenting the redesign.

The new label was designed in 2014 by Kevin Grady, former design director of IDEO and now the global head of content and design at Siegel & Gale.

"The FDA was looking for a fresh approach to showcase the information, and they gave me the freedom to consider a number of possible approaches to the typography and to the graphic representation of the information," he explained of the brief. "They provided me with specific intentions in terms of content, and left it to me to figure out how best to display this content graphically."

Rolling out just now, at first it doesn't look that much different from its predecessor -- it features the same blocky font and the same simple black and white color palette. But on closer inspection--there's actually a lot going on in the new design.

For one, the calorie count, serving size and number of servings are much more obvious. The number of calories actually appears as the biggest figure on the label, while the number of servings has been emboldened, so it's very clear that you'll know how much you're eating if you happen to consume that entire bag of chips, or that giant can of soda.

Mr. Grady said he strived to keep much of the original label intact. "There was a lot about [it] that was still working well, so my suggestion was to keep much of the original, iconic design, and to be bolder in terms of how certain information -- calories, for example -- was displayed. If you have a crying baby with you in the supermarket, you don't want to have to use a magnifying glass to read how many calories there are in a serving. So there's a more pronounced hierarchy in terms of how the information is displayed now."

The redesign will also feature dual-column labels that feature nutritional information for both single servings and entire packages, so if you do eat that whole bag of chips, you'll know what's going into your body.

And those giant cans of soda? For products like those, which run between one or two servings, the FDA is now requiring those to be labeled as a single serving, since that's how people will typically consume it.

The serving sizes will now actually reflect how much people actually eat today -- according to the FDA, that amount has changed since the it last published its serving size requirements in 1993.

Sugar also gets an overhaul -- the new labels declare the grams and percent daily value (%DV) for "added sugars" so consumers will know how much was added during manufacturing, versus how much naturally occurs in the products.

And for fat watchers, the FDA has also removed the listing of number of calories from fat, but "total fat," "saturated fat" and "trans fat" will remain.

There was a reason behind the bolder, perhaps clunkier design. "Some might argue that it's not quite as elegant as before, but I was very focused on usability, and I believe the new label offers a simplified experience," he said.

As for his major challenges, one was going through the evolution of the design process. "I can't even remember how many rounds there were for me on this over several years. I expected an iterative process, and that's exactly what I got. The biggest challenges, though, were handled by the FDA, and it was a real education to see how complicated it is to accomplish something like this. There are so many interested parties with greatly different motivations. In the end, I feel that this is a step forward, and I'm happy to have been a part of it."