The double-edged sword of the new “added sugar” labeling laws

By now you’re well aware of how I feel about sugar. I believe it is the single greatest contributing factor to the growing constellation of health problems Americans face today.

So you might think I was ecstatic when the FDA announced its new labeling law. This mandate requires food manufacturers to list the amount of sugar they’ve added to what already naturally occurs in their products on the “Nutrition Facts” label. They must also show how the amount compares to recommended “daily limits.”

But I have very mixed emotions about it.

On one hand, I am thrilled. I totally agree that there needs to be more transparency and public awareness about exactly what’s in the foods we buy. And the rising amounts of added sugars in processed foods is unquestionably contributing to the soaring rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

However, I fear listing “added sugar” sends consumers the wrong message. There is already so much sugar in processed foods. And currently, nutrition labels are only required to state the total sugars, which includes both those naturally present in foods and those that are added during manufacturing. Singling out “added” sugar implies it’s the only type you need to be concerned about.

This move comes on the heels of recommendations from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that people get no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. (For more on the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines, refer back to the March issue of my Logical Health Alternatives newsletter.)

This recommendation was based on research showing that it’s difficult for a person to get all the recommended nutrients in their diet if they consume too much sugar. I could have told them that years ago.

Which is why having a “daily value” for sugar at all is ridiculous.

Under this misguided assumption, if a person eats 2,000 per day, they’re “allowed” to have about 12 teaspoons of added sugar. Granted, that’s better than the 33 teaspoons the average American actually eats in a day. But 12 teaspoons still comes out to 192 worthless calories. Considering it only takes an extra 500 calories each day to gain a pound a week, is it any wonder we have a raging obesity epidemic on our hands?

Besides simply sending the wrong message about which type of sugar is dangerous (hint: ALL of it), this new law adds even more confusion to labels that are already baffling to begin with. Honestly, you need a degree in nonsense and deception to decipher a product’s “Nutrition Facts.”

For instance, product ingredients are listed by weight, so the more sugar there is in a food, the higher up on the ingredient list it will appear. But manufacturers sneak around this requirement by using several different kinds of sugar—like dextrose or fructose—in the same product so they can list each one lower down on the ingredient list. I’ve seen some labels where there are seven different sugars in one product. (For the record, anything that ends in -ose or -ol is a sugar.)

Not surprisingly there is significant pushback from the food industry to this mandate. I bet the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Beverage Association have dozens of lobbyists in Congress as we speak. Do you really think the soda companies want the general public to know that just one 20-ounce soda has 65 grams of sugar—which is 130% of the “daily value”?

Even the cranberry industry is in an uproar about this. Cranberries in their pure form are naturally low in sugar. But no one eats cranberries in their pure form. We eat cranberry sauce and drink cranberry juice. And both of them contain a LOT of added sugar. For instance, 8 oz. of cranberry juice contains roughly 30 grams of sugar, most of it “added.” So manufacturers are worried that listing the amount of added sugar in cranberry juice will scare customers away—as well it should. Cranberry juice—like all fruit juice—is just another sugar-sweetened beverage that can be put in the same category along with soda.

When it comes to sugar and processed food, the only thing really worth adding to labels is a skull and crossbones.