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article imageNew changes in nutritional labels target sugar

By Alyssa Sellors     Nov 10, 2014 in Health
When you walk into the grocery store, did you know that on average out of 600,000 food items, 80 percent contain added sugar?
Current FDA nutritional labels do not differentiate naturally occurring from added sugars in our foods, and that’s a problem, says a new proposal by the FDA. This proposal, which also calls for emboldening and enlarging the calories and serving size, calls for sugar to be calculated and listed in a way that is easier for the average consumer to read.
First, many Americans have no concept of what a “gram” looks like, yet all of our nutritional labels calculate sugar in grams. And in fact, some proponents of this new proposal criticize the industry for conveying sugar content in confusing terms on purpose, since few Americans understand the metric system. To clarify, four grams of sugar would be equal to four teaspoons, but the average American consumer would not really know this. The American Heart Association recommends that women should consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar daily (which is six teaspoons), and for men, 36 grams (which is nine teaspoons), but it’s difficult for consumers to know from current nutritional labels what is added sugar and what sugar is naturally occurring, according to a recent article focused on the impact these new changes will have on diabetes entitled “Just a Touch of Sugar.”
So the next step is to list the differences in added versus naturally occurring sugars, because they affect the body in very different ways. A molecule of refined sugar (or added sugars, not naturally occurring) is made up of both glucose and fructose, and the sugars that are naturally occurring, found in fruits for example, are made up of a variety of different sugars that include glucose, fructose and sucrose. And although the sugars found in fruit are the same as in refined sugar, our bodies absorb and process them differently, with varying effects on the body. What makes naturally occurring sugars better for us is how they are broken down, and the presence of fiber. Refined sugars lack fiber and plant nutrients, causing our bodies to quickly metabolize the sugar, resulting in a spike in insulin (blood sugar) levels. If this quick surge of energy is not used quickly, or at all, the body (specifically the liver) turns the excess sugar to fat. But because of the fiber in naturally occurring sugars, the body does not immediately process the sugar as quickly and it is not stored as fat like calories from refined sugar.
However, major companies in the food and beverage industry are not taking these changes lying down. John Oliver, of Last Week Tonight, explained in a recent episode on the “sugar takedown” that “being forced to reveal how much sugar you’re adding to people’s food may seem pretty mild, but there’s no way the food manufacturing industry is going to let that happen.” And he may be right. In a letter from several major companies, including the American Bakers Association, the American Beverage Association and the National Confectioners Association, among others, claimed in a letter to the FDA that the new changes lack merit, and that there is essentially no justification or reason for having “added sugars” listed on nutritional labels.
While we wait to see if these changes take place, we can take action on our own by simply educating ourselves and looking out for “hidden” terms for added sugars in food. Some of these terms are agave nectar, molasses, sucrose, glucose, and corn syrup. In addition, by simply cutting out processed foods and incorporating more whole foods in our diets, we can combat the bulge of added sugars in our diet.
More about Nutritional labeling, US FDA, Diabetes, Diabetics, added sugar
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