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January 2018 Issue

Confusing Sugar Claims on Food Labels

Are you confused about sugar labels on foods? If you answered “yes” you’re not alone. A recent study found that foods labeled “reduced sugar” or “no added sugar” can be healthier and lower in calories, but they still have sugar levels deemed high by the World Health Organization, which currently recommends keeping added sugar (i.e., sugar, corn syrup, honey, and brown rice syrup) intake to below 10 percent of calories (about 50 grams or 12 teaspoons for the average adult) for optimal health, and 5 percent (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) for additional weight, heart, and metabolic benefits. There is no concern about naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

It’s difficult to sort out natural from added sugars in food products when the label just states “sugar” in grams. That’s why the FDA updated their nutrition facts labeling rule to include “added sugars” on the label, which should make it easier for you to identify sources of added sugars in food products. The new rule goes into effect on January 1, 2020 for large manufacturers, and 2021 for smaller companies. However, some food companies are already updating their labels for the new rule, identifying “added sugars” on product food labels. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to scan ingredient lists for sources of sugar too.