Nutrition labels will soon list added sugars. Limiting the sweets can have a big impact on your health.
The Nutrition Facts label is undergoing its first big makeover since 1994, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced it to the public. Among the changes: Consumers will be able to see just how much added sugar is in their food. That's good news, since the average American takes in about 17 teaspoons of added sugars per day—far more than we should. In fact, our intake of added sugar has risen by more than 30 percent over the last three decades.
"Offering information about added sugars gives you a window into the contents of a product," says Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "This allows you to make a healthier choice."
What are added sugars?
The sugars in the foods we eat can be natural, like those found in apples, milk, and grains, or added. Food companies add sugars to all sorts of foods, and not just those you'd expect, such as ice cream, cookies, and other treats. Some surprising sources are low-fat salad dressings, tomato sauce, ketchup, and frozen entrées.
What's so bad about added sugars?
"Added sugars come with the price of added calories and no bonus of essential vitamins or minerals," says Smithson. Taking in too much added sugar makes it difficult to meet daily nutrient needs without consuming excess calories. Sugar also confuses appetite regulators, which can spur overeating.
How else can added sugars impact health?
A high intake of added sugar has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, inflammation, and cavities.
What should I aim for?
The 2015–2016 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends keeping calories from added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your total daily intake. For adults who eat 2,000 calories per day, that translates to 200 calories from added sugar, or about 12 teaspoons. That may sound like a lot, but considering that just 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains 3/4 teaspoon of added sugar, and a can of regular soda provides 8 or more, it's easy to see how sugars add up quickly.
How will the new food label help?
Traditional food labels listed only total grams of sugars, so consumers had to scan ingredient lists to see if sugar was added. By 2019, all Nutrition Facts labels must list Total Sugars in grams as well as Added Sugars in grams and Percent Daily Value. With the new label, consumers can more easily decide if a particular food fits into their daily sugar budget, and use the information value to easily compare products when shopping. This label change may lead to healthier formulations of foods by encouraging companies to use less added sugar in their recipes.
What can I do now?
For starters, cut back on the sugar you add to coffee, tea, and anything else you make at home. You should also check ingredient lists for terms that indicate added sugar, such as corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, agave, maltodextrin, corn sweetener, rice syrup solids, honey, and anything ending in –ose (like fructose). Keep in mind that beverages account for almost half of added sugars in the American diet, so limiting soda and other sweet drinks can also help reduce your added sugar intake.