New labels tell Americans how much sugar is added to food

(Credit: julochka/Flickr)

For the first time in more than 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled a new required nutritional information label for packaged foods.

Experts believe the new label will make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about their health and the foods they eat.

new US FDA food label
(Credit: US FDA)

The updated panel will take effect in two years—and for the first time requires the inclusion of how much sugar has been added during processing or preparation. The label will also suggest a daily value of sugar a person should be eating, similar to what has been included for carbohydrates, fats, and sodium.

“We are a country that is inundated with sugar.”

New US dietary guidelines suggest limiting consumption of added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. On average, Americans currently receive 13 percent (roughly 270 calories) of their total caloric intake from added sugars—with beverages like soft drinks as the major source.

“Many foods have some amount of natural sugar in them,” says Taylor Newhouse, a registered dietitian with the Health Science Center School of Public Health at Texas A&M University. “Chocolate milk has the natural sugar lactose in it, but it will also have added sugar from the chocolate. Choosing food items that have more natural sugar rather than added sugar is always best, and choosing items that have the lowest ‘total sugar’ amount is the way to go.”

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“We are a country that is inundated with sugar, and a culture that has a large focus on fast, easily accessible items because we are so busy,” Newhouse says. “I think the new added sugar line, paired with other changes such as the larger font for calories and updated portion sizes, will aid individuals who wish to make a more healthful choice.”

The updated panel will also highlight “calories,” “servings per container,” and “serving size” by increasing the type size and placing the number of calories and serving size declaration in bold type. Serving sizes and product packaging are now more reflective of the typical American diet, which may lessen the overconsumption of extra and empty calories.

For example, the FDA now says both 12 oz and 20 oz bottles will equal one serving—and the packaging will follow the corresponding nutritional information for each individual size—since people normally drink both sizes in one setting.

“When an individual is conscious of their portion sizes, eating in America is hard. All of our portion sizes are huge,” Newhouse says. “When following the portion size of the food item on the now outdated nutrition facts panel, the portion size is often much smaller than what the typical American eats. This may leave the consumer still feeling hungry and cause overindulgence later as a result of what we jokingly refer to as ‘hangry.”

Would a ‘nutrition score’ get you to buy healthy food?

Other notable changes include requiring manufacturers to declare both the percent daily value and actual amount of mandatory vitamins and minerals, and changing the footnote to better explain what percent daily value means. As defined by the new guidelines, the percent daily value tells you how much a nutrient in serving of food contributes to a daily diet.

“The last change to the Nutrition Facts label was in 2006 with the addition of trans fats. Any step we can make to encourage the public toward healthier choices is a win in my book,” Newhouse says. “However, we still need to look at the food item as a whole and keep other components in mind such as our intake of carbohydrates, fat, protein, and fiber.”

Newhouse warned that while this is a step in the right direction, it’s still hard to leave behind unhealthy choices in a sugar-saturated society. “When it comes down to it, if you’re not motivated to make the better choice, then the new nutrition panel may not impact you.”

Source: Texas A&M University