Transparency, Added Sugars, and the New Nutrition Label

How are we consuming all that sugar?

As consumers become savvier about all things nutrition, both the food industry and governing bodies have adapted to meet demands for greater transparency and healthier options. Some brands voluntarily change their ingredients, growing, or processing practices in order to evolve, while others wait for government enforcement in order to change. The FDA’s new Nutrition Label is one example of government policy that may soon influence how and what we eat. Although the new label will not be used until 2018, we may see its impact long before then.

The addition of “added sugars” has been receiving the most attention. Why did the FDA decide to add this information and why does it matter?

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The labeling announcement comes after both the World Health Organization (WHO) and 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggested that adults and children reduce their intake of added sugars. Many Americans consume as much as 25 percent of their total calories from added sugars, yet the new recommendations suggest that 10 percent or fewer is advisable. YIKES—that’s less than half! These suggestions come from recent evidence that sugar is not only a source of empty calories, but is actually an independent risk factor for heart disease—the number one killer of both men and women in this country.

Since we’re not all pouring 2/3 of a cup of sugar onto our dinner plates, how are we consuming all that sugar?

Added sugars come from any source other than whole fruit and milk products. Sugar-sweetened beverages tend to be the biggest offenders, often cramming a whole day’s worth of sugar into one small bottle. However, this line item on the new nutrition label aims to expose foods that are adding sugar to our diets in ways that may not be obvious.

Yogurt companies (in addition to bakers and beverage makers) fought this change tooth and nail, and it’s no surprise. Although yogurts tend to contain pieces of fruit (or something that resembles fruit), according to the new guidelines they will have to label every sugar in there other than the lactose as “added” (even fruit juice!).

I choose to pick on yogurt because I am always shocked by how much sugar a small yogurt contains. Let’s consider the new guidelines: In a 2,000 calorie diet, 10 percent calories coming from sugar would be 200 calories, or 50 grams. If I had one Strawberry Chobani fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt (15g sugar*) and two packets of Sugar in the Raw in my coffee (10g), I’m already up to half my day’s recommended allowance!

I don’t mean to pick on Chobani in particular, especially because it was ahead of its time with 100-cal yogurts, which have only have 7g of sugar. For those of us (including me) who are not quite ready to make the jump to plain yogurt, aim for your yogurt to come in under 15g total sugars for now. Another option? Add your own fruit, nuts, and seeds to plain yogurt, which will come in at 0g added sugars!**

Yogurt aside, the big picture for consumers is to use the new nutrition facts label to your advantage. As with all other foods we are supposed to “limit” (saturated fat, etc.), choose your favorites! Know where you want to splurge and where you can live with less. As for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink my coffee without sugar, but I don’t mind putting fruit in my water instead of drinking a juice or soda. Your choices can be different!

The best news? Whole fruit doesn’t count!!!** Especially during the abundance of New England berry season, enjoy local fruits while they are ripe and delicious.

*Because only “total sugars” are currently reported, this will probably not be the amount of “added sugar” on the new Chobani fruit on the bottom strawberry yogurt because the naturally occurring sugar (lactose) will not be included.

** Naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy products are still important to consider for anyone with Diabetes. However, the fiber and fat present in both fruit and yogurt help to slow the rush of sugar into the bloodstream, providing a steadier stream of glucose than from added sugars, sugar consumed by itself, or sugars in carbohydrate-rich meals.

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