Many of us are probably already looking for ways to cut down on our intake of sugar. The good news is that now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to help.
On July 24, the FDA announced a new proposal recommending that nutrition labels not only list the total grams of “added sugar" in food products, but also reveal how that added sugar relates to our overall daily value.
The proposal was inspired by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which recently cited the extensive evidence that an excess of sugar is associated with obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, among other health problems.
So the group concluded that there should be a clear recommendation for the total amount of added sugar that's safe for us to eat on a daily basis. They established that amount to be 50 grams for adults, which is about 200 calories or 10% of the typical 2,000-calorie diet.
Translation: No more than 10% of the calories in a healthful diet should come from added sugar.
The FDA’s recommendation is to now bring that very information to food labels. So if a product has 25 grams of added sugar per serving, the nutrition facts would need to indicate that it represents a full 50% of daily value.
To put that in perspective: A 20oz can of Coca Cola, with its whooping 65 grams of added sugar, would need to state that it — all by itself — provides 130% of your recommended daily value!
Why Added Sugar Is Particularly Harmful
The FDA emphasized added sugar here for a reason. After all, fruit contains sugar, too — but it's not “added.” In fact, fruit consumption is associated with less diabetes, not more. And there's also sugar, or lactose, in the milk of all mothers.
Added sugar, on the other hand, is a different matter. For one, when sugar is added to foods, there's no check on quantity. Second, sweeteners are often used by the food industry to maximize our eating and addiction — along with their profits. Plus, the glycemic effects of sugar in processed foods tend to be much higher than sugar in whole foods.
Bottom line: I very much welcome the FDA's proposal.
Still, there are of course potential loopholes, and the food industry can be quite wily when it comes to navigating regulations. With that in mind, I'm sharing three tactics to defend yourself further against added sugar:
1. Remember that ingredients are in order of abundance.
Any product that lists sugar as the first ingredient is only appropriate if it's a dessert or a special indulgence. Steer clear of breakfast cereals or snacks where sugar tops the list.
2. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
In general, the best foods are made from a clear, short list of recognizable ingredients. Highly processed foods with long, unfamiliar ingredient lists provide lots of cover for various sweeteners and sugar substitutes.
3. The best way to avoid added sugars is to eat a wholesome diet.
A diet of wholesome, minimally processed foods leaves enough room for a bit of added sugar where it matters most for taste — without resulting in overall excess.