Nutrition label guidelines have been the same since 1990, when they were first required. Now, after 20+ years, the FDA says they’ll be getting a makeover. While the Food and Drug Administration’s unofficial announcement has no published date of these changes, the nutritional community and health experts are offering a few suggestions... and praise.
The biggest change has to do with sugar and how it’s represented on the label. Specifically, the changes being considered would essentially unhide the sugar content in your food by showing ALL added sugars together. Right now, it’s relatively easy to mask the actual sugar content in processed foods, and here’s how...
Currently, ingredients are listed in order from most to least, meaning the main ingredient is listed first, followed by the second, third, fourth, etc... so we’ve been trained to assume ingredients listed last represent only a tiny portion of the whole food in question.
For foods that get added sugar, a company can choose to use one kind of sugar... OR, use up 10 different kinds of sugar in much smaller amounts so they end up getting listed last or near the end of the label.
- A consumer sees the sugar listed last, assumes it’s not much... and bingo, you’ve just hidden the fact that this food is, in all reality, loaded with added sugar in multiple forms.
Another big focus is the clarity of how serving sizes are defined. One of the biggest suggestions, though, is how sugar and artificial sweeteners are represented on labels.
This Nutra Ingredients article pointed out this trend and put it this way: Ingredient lists can contain upwards of 10 different sweeteners (honey, corn syrup, dextrose, etc.), each used in small amounts to downplay the prominence of sweeteners in the product. “If ‘added sweeteners’ became one category, we’d see them as the first ingredient in many products, a clear indication that they are high in sugar,” the article says.
There is also some confusion when it comes to naturally occurring and added sweeteners. “Nutrition advocates are hoping the agency adds a line for sugars and syrups that are not naturally occurring in foods and drinks and are added when they are processed or prepared,” according to an Associated Press article. “Right now, some sugars are listed separately among the ingredients and some are not. It may be difficult for the FDA to figure out how to calculate added sugars, however. Food manufacturers are adding naturally occurring sugars to their products so they can label them as natural — but the nutrition content is no different.”
Are food companies trying to hide sugar content, or present it in ways that make their products more appealing and “healthy” to consumers?