Nutrition Facts labels will reveal how much added sugar is in your food

sugar spoon
CC BY 2.0 Health Gauge

Starting in 2018, the FDA will require food manufacturers to list added sugars separately from total sugars. This is a real victory for a country suffering the health consequences of excessive sugar consumption.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally settled on its new Nutrition Facts labels, which will go into effect May 2018. (Small food producers have until May 2019 to comply.) The labels feature a number of significant changes, including updated serving sizes, number of calories in a larger font, dual columns for ‘per serving’ and ‘per package, all designed to make it easier to understand what you’re eating.

The biggest change, however, is that ‘added sugars’ will be measured separately from total sugars, revealing the discrepancy between intrinsic sugars in foods and those added by manufacturers. This is a huge step forward for a nation whose sugar consumption is roughly twice the amount recommended and whose population is suffering the health consequences of excessive sugar consumption in the form of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

The FDA defines added sugars on its website:

“The definition of added sugars includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice of the same type. The definition excludes fruit or vegetable juice concentrated from 100 percent fruit juice that is sold to consumers (e.g. frozen 100 percent fruit juice concentrate) as well as some sugars found in fruit and vegetable juices, jellies, jams, preserves, and fruit spreads.”

nutrition facts labels© FDA

The sugar industry is not pleased with the change, arguing that the FDA’s decision “sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.”

Marion Nestle, author and nutrition professor at New York University, counters this argument in a guest post for Scientific American:

“The Association argues, correctly, that the sugars that occur naturally in fruits are biochemically identical to those added in manufacturing. But this argument misses how added sugars dilute the nutritional value of food products. Much research supports the health benefits of eating fruit, whereas added sugars raise risks for obesity and other chronic conditions. The Sugar Association does not really care about science. It cares about what will happen to sales if people read labels and reject products with added sugars. This, of course, is one of the purposes of Added Sugars on food labels.”

Sales will most certainly be affected, if the example of trans fats is taken into consideration. Between 2002 and 2009, when the FDA started requiring food manufacturers only to list (not eliminate) the amount of trans fats in their products, the health-harming fats were removed from 10,000 products.

Jim O’Hara of the Center for Science in the Public Interest is quoted by Bloomberg: “Information like this on the nutrition facts label begins driving consumer behavior, and that in turn drives the industry.” Once people become aware, they don’t want to buy.

The resource website Sugar Science contains a list of 61 names for sugar – all ingredients that will be considered added sugars on the new Nutrition Facts labels. Take a look to get a better idea of the scope of this change.

It’s a positive step forward by the FDA and hopefully the changes will encourage smarter shopping and better dietary habits by educating people about the true contents of the foods they buy. Keep in mind, though, that packaged and processed foods of all kinds should not be the mainstay of one’s diet. As Prof. Nestle writes, “Healthful diets are based on foods, not food products.” It is the foods that come without Nutrition Facts that we should be eating most of all.

Tags: Diet | Food Safety | Food Security | Health

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