By Melinda Carstensen
Public health advocates are fighting for more transparency of added sugars in foods, but some high-profile lobbyists are trying to thwart those efforts.
Earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed changes to its Nutrition Facts Label, including listing added sugar.
Like salt, sugar is in many processed foods, from bread and milk to fruit juice and canned beans. The average American eats 16 percent of his or her daily calories from sugars added during the production process, the FDA notes in its proposal.
Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist and the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, says sugar is to blame for obesity and chronic disease in the United States.
“It’s not about the calories,” Lustig says. “It has nothing to do with the calories. It’s a poison by itself.”
The American Bakers Association, American Beverage Association, American Frozen Foods Institute, Corn Refiners Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Confectioners Association called for more research on the proposed changes in a letter to the FDA in June.
Sugar Association CEO Andy Briscoe said in a statement that there wasn’t a “preponderance of science as required by law to support the ‘added sugars’ recommendation.”
But proponents of the change say listing added sugar on labels is necessary because the ingredient is often disguised. Dextran, corn syrup and fructose are just a few examples of added sugar on food labels.
"Now when Americans pull a product from the supermarket shelf, they will have a clear idea of how much sugar that product really contains," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.
Penny Kris-Etherton, chair of the AHA Nutrition Committee and a professor at Penn State, echoed Brown and said this addition is a good first step.
"I’m hopeful that the food industry will be incentivized to cut back on added sugars and consumers will also want to cut back," Kris-Etherton said, "so the FDA won’t have to take additional steps that are more severe."
Per capita, Americans consume more than twice the daily-recommended amount of sugar.
The AHA recommends that American men consume no more than nine teaspoons of sugar a day, and that women consume no more than six.
The FDA is taking comments on the proposed changes through Aug. 1. You can submit your feedback here.