The FDA may soon change food labels to slash your added sugar intake

A high-sugar diet has been associated with all kinds of negative health impacts, from obesity to diabetes to high blood pressure. Now, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is nearing a decision on a new proposal that could help people cut down on their sugar intake. The proposal, first proposed in July and currently under review, recommends that nutrition labels on packaged food include the amount of added sugars they contain. That’s any extra sugar that’s added to the ingredients in the food. While the proposal, itself, doesn’t include a hard definition, other FDA guidelines identify an “added sugar” as a sugar or sugar-containing ingredient that’s added to a product during processing. See also: Beyond turkey: What different cultures eat for Thanksgiving dinner Currently, nutrition labels only contain information on the total amount of sugar in a product, which also include natural sugars found in foods like fruits. The FDA also proposes adding a percentage of daily value note to nutrition labels — essentially, a note indicating how much sugar is recommended in a daily diet and what percentage of that recommendation would be filled by eating a particular serving of the labeled food. The new recommendation would be for people to limit their added sugar intake to 10% of their total calorie intake. That’s about 50 grams per day, which comes out to 12.5 teaspoons, or a little more than the amount of sugar in your average can of soda. Here are some meals you could eat to stay under the 50 grams of added sugar per day.Image: Mashable/Bob Al-GreeneThis is the same amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), although the WHO notes that cutting down to 5% would provide greater benefits. The new guidelines were proposed just over two months ago and opened up to a public comment period, which officially closed at the end of October. The proposal and comments will now be considered by the FDA before the decision is made to finalize it as a rule. Added sugars are a major problem in the American diet Added sugars contribute about 16% of the total calories to the average American’s diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — so we have some cutting down to do. “Reducing added sugar in the American diet would, undoubtedly, be a step forward for the nation's health,” said Beth Weitzman, vice dean and professor of health and public policy at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, in an email to Mashable. “Reducing the wasted calories of added sugar would, ideally, result in more nutritious diets, even if not lower calorie ones,” she wrote. By “wasted calories,” Weitzman means calories that have no nutritional value. In other words, added sugars add calories to a food without adding extra nutrients. So even if a person is eating the recommended number of calories per day (somewhere around 2,000 calories) and they consume a lot of sugar, they probably aren’t getting as many healthy nutrients as they need. Decreasing the amount of added sugar in a diet can make room for more nutrient-rich calories. By adding a “% daily value” label to packaged foods, consumers will be better informed about whether they’re consuming too much sugar in a day, according to the FDA. Foods that might have added sugar or another sweetener like high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient are pictured Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in New York. Image: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press“Without information like this about a nutrient, it’s hard to know if you’re eating too much or too little in a given day,” wrote Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a July 24 blog post. “For example, a consumer who drinks a 20-ounce sugared beverage may be surprised to know it contains about 66 grams of added sugar, which would be listed on the label as 132 percent of the Daily Value.” Still, Weitzman expressed some concern that the new labels might not change some people’s behavior. She noted: “Based on the literature to date regarding calorie and nutrition labels, I am not confident that most people would effectively use the new information being provided.” Weitzman is referring to past research, some of which she conducted, that has suggested nutrition labels in fast food restaurants generally don’t lead people to change their calorie consumption. And another study, published earlier this year in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that including an “added sugars” component to nutrition labels was confusing and could be misinterpreted, causing some people to overestimate the total amount of sugar in the product. But Weitzman added in her email, “Some already-motivated people could be helped to make better informed choices, and I believe it likely that the food industry would be motivated to respond by reducing added sugars in food. This could be the start of a very important change.” Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.