“Added Sugars” Proposed FDA Label Changes

by Christine Hronec

 
Proposed changes to the nutrition facts labels have been made for the first time in 20 years and are challenging the way we interpret the amount and type of sweeteners we eat. As the Food and Drug Administration reviews thousands of public comments that were due on Aug. 1, experts weigh in on how to communicate sugar content, which has been vilified as the cause of America’s ongoing obesity epidemic.

The public also demands their food be labeled properly in order to know what’s been genetically modified or the welfare of the animals they’re consuming. Sugar has taken the forefront of the controversial overhaul because of the push back from various food and sweetener companies along with a slew of lobbyists. “Sugar is sugar, regardless of the source,” Campbell Soup Company wrote in a letter to the FDA.

Added sugars are anything that doesn’t sweeten from natural sources and are literally added to foods and beverages during processing or preparation. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits (fructose), vegetables, and certain dairy (lactose) products. Added sugar also contains white sugar, brown sugar, agave syrup, and honey.

The current laws make it easy for companies to sneak by with labels such as “No sugar added,” which means there’s no sugar in it but there can be artificial sugar or sugar alcohols. When you see a label that says “unsweetened,” it means the sugar is natural or a sugar alcohol but does not contain artificial sugars.

You know what artificial sugars are; you see them all the time by the coffee maker: Splenda, Equal, NutraSweet. They all contain aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin, which are 200 to 8,000 times sweeter than natural sugar because they’re chemically manipulated. Sugar alcohols are labeled as sorbitol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, and come from chemically altered plant products such as fruits and berries.

Then there’s the infamous high fructose corn syrup, which is processed syrup from corn and contains fructose and glucose. It’s cheaper than sucrose and gives products longer shelf life, which means the United States has made it ubiquitous throughout sodas, cereals, and even whole wheat breads, and yogurts.

The amount of added sugars there are today makes the market competitive and if there’s a section for “added sugars,” it’ll be clear who’s just adding chemical copies of sugar into the food we eat. If the FDA doesn’t add this new section to the back of everything we consume, remember to look for any word ending in “ose” on the ingredients list, it’s the sugar molecules’ distinguishable key three letters. Ingredients such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose, all are considered added sugars.

Current label laws only require companies to list the total sugar content, which clumps natural sugars and added sugars together. “The big difference between now and then [is] we have a system to provide the guidelines,” said Francesco Branca, the WHO’s nutrition department director. “We have credibility from the scientific point of view that make these guidelines easier to defend.” Why do you want to watch your added sugar intake? Considering two out of three adults and one out of three children in the United States are overweight or obese, it’s clear there’s a caloric imbalance and gap in nutrition and exercise education.

A study completed 22 years ago published in the journal JAMA found 75 percent of the 80,000 women they analyzed had gout if they drank just one sugary drink a day. It’s just one of many studies that connect sugar intake with weight gain, which is why making nutrition labels transparent is an opportunity to educate and create a healthier future for America’s children. Albeit, not everyone will agree, which is what makes the sugar label a pinnacle movement for the FDA, suppliers, and consumers alike.

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