A Sticky Sit­u­a­tion

EatingWell - - FRESH -

Think you know what added sugar is? Think again.

Pub­lic-health ad­vo­cates cheered in 2016 when the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) un­veiled a new Nu­tri­tion Facts panel for pack­aged foods. It in­cluded larger, bolder type, more realistic serving sizes (who eats just ½ cup of ce­real?) and, maybe most im­por­tant, a line to la­bel added sug­ars—sep­a­rate from the to­tal sug­ars—along with their per­cent daily value. This daily value is based on the guid­ance that peo­ple should limit calo­ries from added sug­ars to 10 per­cent of their diet. With the new la­bel, a shop­per can eas­ily see that a yo­gurt, for ex­am­ple, may have 16 grams of added sugar, or 31 per­cent of the rec­om­mended al­lowance (ver­sus the 16 grams of nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring sug­ars from milk). The change would bring much­needed trans­parency to tens of thou­sands of prod­ucts, but com­plaints from the food in­dus­try pushed the com­pli­ance date back from July 2018 to Jan­uary 2020, open­ing the doors for a heated de­bate.

The Push­back

Two in­dus­tries at the fore­front of this fray are honey and maple syrup pro­duc­ers. When orig­i­nally is­sued in 2016, the la­bel up­date re­quired that, just like that yo­gurt, bot­tles of honey and syrup in­clude an added-sugar line—even though the sug­ars present are nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring within those prod­ucts, not added. Nat­u­rally these pro­duc­ers were sour on the rule: They worry that con­sumers would think that pure maple syrup or honey has been adul­ter­ated with cheap fillers like high-fruc­tose corn syrup. (As for honey or syrup in a prod­uct—that def­i­nitely counts as added sugar. No dis­pute about that.) As a com­pro­mise, the FDA pro­posed that maple syrup and honey pro­duc­ers could add a “” sym­bol next to the added-sugar line that di­rects shop­pers to a state­ment, such as “all these sug­ars are nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring.” A slightly clearer al­ter­na­tive, sug­gested by the nu­tri­tion ad­vo­cacy group Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic In­ter­est (CSPI), would read: “This prod­uct con­tains pure maple syrup/honey with no other in­gre­di­ents.” Pro­duc­ers could also put “100% pure maple syrup” or “100% pure honey” in large, bold let­ters on the front of the pack­age. The FDA then ini­ti­ated a com­ment pe­riod (which closed in June) and ac­cu­mu­lated over 3,500 re­sponses—many from maple-syrup-pro­duc­ing states. The re­ac­tions were over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive. “How stupid is this,” scolded one per­son. “100% pure maple prod­ucts come from trees and no sugar is added. Same with honey. Bees and trees do not add sugar. If peo­ple do, it is not 100% pure. Get a grip, FDA!” But Lind­say Moyer, a se­nior nutri­tion­ist at the CSPI, says the rule makes sense be­cause no one eats them in iso­la­tion. Maple syrup and honey are added to pan­cakes, tea, corn­bread and so on. “It helps peo­ple to see ev­ery­thing that counts as an added sugar in their diet,” Moyer says. With this rul­ing, you’d see on a bot­tle of honey that 1 ta­ble­spoon has 34 per­cent of your rec­om­mended daily max­i­mum of added sugar. Note: A bag of gran­u­lated sugar will also have an added-sugar line. Maple and honey in­dus­tries aren’t the only ones look­ing to change the rules. The cran­berry in­dus­try got bent out of shape by the nu­tri­tion la­bel up­date, and it’s set to get a big pass. The FDA has pro­posed that cran­berry prod­ucts can add sugar—and not de­clare it on the la­bel—up to the to­tal amount found in com­pa­ra­ble fruits that are nat­u­rally sweet, like raisins. Its logic: “Some stake­hold­ers are con­cerned that con­sumers may think cer­tain cran­berry prod­ucts are less nu­tri­tious than these com­peti­tor prod­ucts be­cause of the added sug­ars dec­la­ra­tion.” An­other piece of weird­ness found in the pro­posed added-sugar rule: the in­con­sis­ten­cies around juice used as a sweet­ener. Juice con­cen­trate in a prod­uct (such as fruit drinks, fruit snacks and gra­nola bars), would count as an added sugar, but when sold di­rectly to con­sumers (think frozen or­ange juice con­cen­trate), it would not have to list them. The rea­son: the lat­ter is in­tended to be re­con­sti­tuted—you add water to turn it back into 100% juice, which isn’t con­sid­ered to con­tain added sug­ars. In some ways, this stands at odds with the honey and syrup ar­gu­ment of once an added sugar, al­ways an added sugar. And while juice may have nu­tri­ents that straight-up sugar doesn’t have, like vi­ta­min C, even 100% juice isn’t as nu­tri­tious as whole fruit.

The Fu­ture of Added-sugar La­bels

At press time, the FDA an­nounced that it would re­con­sider the maple syrup and honey rule. “Chalk it up to pol­i­tics,” says Mar­ion Nes­tle, PH.D., M.P.H., an Eat­ing­well ad­vi­sor and pro­fes­sor of nu­tri­tion at New York Univer­sity. But look­ing at the big pic­ture, she’s op­ti­mistic: “Here’s what’s most im­por­tant to know about sug­ars: It’s bet­ter to eat less of them. So hav­ing added sug­ars on la­bels at all will be a big step for­ward.”

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