Food labels will get their first makeover in 20 years

New food labels might tell us more about what's in our Cheetos.

We know a lot about our food these days – the calories, the fat, the protein that comes in a single serving of Cheeze-its. And i's all thanks to that little box on the back of the box.

Now for the first time in about 20 years, nutritional labels are getting a make over.

The FDA won't say exactly when the changes will come, or what the new labels will include. But there are some hints: easier to see calorie counts, more up-to-date serving sizes and information on added sugars.

Phil Lempert, editor of Supermarketguru.com says the time for change has come. He attributes some our unhealthy eating habits to consumer confusion over nutrition labels.

"If we can get people to understand that they are consuming too much food, or too many empty calories vs. nutritive calories, we can finally change behavior," he says.

Lempert believes new labels could clear things up for shoppers, and put some pressure on food companies.

"Food manufacturers are going to look very carefully at this, and try to take advantage of this, so their ingredients and the nutritional information becomes a marketing advantage," he says.

So does that mean we are going to see an explosion of whole wheat, tofu and kale in everything?

Ann Yaktine, interim head of the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, says to expect baby steps.

"I’m not convinced that manufacturers are going to radically change what their food products are now."

Yaktine says over the past several years, food companies have already started to offer consumers different choices.

Just walk down the 50-mile long chip aisle.

"You can see all kinds of different products. Low-sodium, low-fat, low-calorie," she says.  

More than anything, Yaktine thinks new labels will make it easier for consumers -- at least, easier to find information. We haven’t yet met a label that makes it easy to put down the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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