As a youngster, breakfast was always a favorite time of day. My siblings and I would convince Mom to buy all kinds of cereal, often based on the prize inside or the Saturday cartoon commercials. The kitchen table would be cluttered with boxes and, after we poured our selections, I’d build a small fortress around my bowl, where I’d read up on the games and offers on the back of each box.

One thing we didn’t do was read the nutritional label.  Actually, there wasn’t one in those days.

Nutritional labeling began in the early 1970s, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a format that would appear on packaged foods. Compliance was voluntary, except when the manufacturer made nutrition claims or added nutrients.

The Nutrition Facts we know today debuted in 1993 after the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990. The law gave the FDA authority to mandate packaged foods labeling and require that certain claims be consistent with regulations.

Consumers paid attention. In a study conducted about a year after the law went into effect, nearly half of participants said they changed their minds about buying a certain food because they read the nutrition label.

Still, certain diet-related health problems, like obesity and diabetes, have continued to grow worse. The food industry is often blamed as contributing to unhealthy eating.

Since many grocery shoppers look to nutrition labels for guidance (in the FDA’s 2014 Health and Diet Survey, 77% of Americans said they checked nutrition labels at least some of the time when buying a certain food), updating the labels became a focal point for change. In May 2016, the FDA unveiled a revised Nutritional Facts panel, which food companies will roll throughout 2017; nearly all manufacturers will need to comply by late July 2018.

Look for changes in these areas:

Clearer design

  • Calorie information, serving size, and servings per container are all emphasized in big, bold print.
  • An explanation of Daily Value, the percentage one serving provides of how much you need each day of a given nutrient to stay healthy

Updated nutrition information

  • “Added Sugars” are called out in both actual amounts and Daily Value
  • Nutrient lists include Vitamin D and potassium, in addition to the already required iron and calcium
  • “Calories from Fat” is gone, but total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat remain
  • Updated daily values for sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D
  • Actual amounts of Vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium, in addition to the Daily Value

More realistic serving sizes

  • Servings sizes are changing based on how people actually eat, rather than how they should. For instance, a serving size of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces, and ice cream from 1/4 pint to 1/3 pint.
  • For packages that contain between one and two serving sizes, calories and other nutritional information will be displayed as one serving, since most people are likely to consumer the entire portion in one sitting
  • Dual column labels will reflect both the “per serving” and “per package” values on some products that can be eaten in one sitting, but contain more than one standard serving (think a large bag of chips or box of cookies).

Bottom line: There’s a lot to know about smart nutrition, and reading food labels is one important part. Eat a variety of foods and know your basic food facts: what to avoid, what to have in small portions, and what to enjoy more frequently.