The US Nutrition Facts label will soon be getting its first update in 20 years, including for the first time how much added sugar is in a product.
The new information will be added onto labels from the beginning of 2018, and the change is being lauded by University of California food experts who believe the change will bring six key take-home messages for US consumers.
1. Listing added sugar is the key change.
Added sugar ranges from table sugar to high fructose corn syrup and more, and is found in hundreds of products including cereal, yogurt, pasta sauce, salad dressing, and sweetened drinks, the biggest source of added sugar for Americans, accounting for nearly half of their intake.
The change will see the amount of added sugar in a product listed both in grams and as a percentage of the daily recommended allowance, with the University of California's Pat Crawford commenting, "One 20-ounce soda will take you over the recommended amount of sugar for an entire day. The new label will allow people to reasonably see what they're doing when they're consuming high-sugar products."
2. Americans need to reduce sugar consumption
Consuming sugary beverages is a contributing factor to the rising levels of obesity and diabetes, with more than one in three US adults now obese and nearly half suffering from prediabetes or diabetes. Among US children, more than 1 in 6 is obese, with diabetes and prediabetes rates also rising.
"The average amount of added sugar in the American diet is more than 20 teaspoons per day, nearly all of which is added to our foods during processing," Crawford said. "Since about half of this sugar comes in the form of beverages, we have to rethink our beverage choices. Water should be the beverage of choice."
3. Manufacturers are expected to make changes to their products.
When the federal government required that manufacturers add trans fat information on the label a decade ago, the move resulted in the food industry offering more products with lower trans fats, pointed out Crawford, adding, "Trans fats are now not allowed to be added to foods during processing, but it all began with labeling. It's a great first step for reducing sugar consumption. In preparation for the new labels, manufacturers are working on creating products with lower levels of added sugars."
4. The new label could lead to regulations limiting sugar.
"Once you've got added sugar on the label along with a daily reference value, policymakers will be in the position to set standards for the quantity of added sugar allowed in school lunches and other federal food programs," said Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor of health policy.
Schmidt also added that changes like this have happened before, "In the UK, the government said salt consumption is way too high and mandated that packaged food manufacturers reduce the amount of sodium in their products. It worked like a charm -- they just gradually reduced the excess salt in foods to everyone's benefit."
5. Other labeling changes
The new label will list more realistic serving sizes and will list calories in a larger and bolder font, helping consumers to see exactly how many calories they are consuming.
6. Further steps could help consumers.
Although the experts welcomed the news they also added that further steps could still be taken to help consumers make more informed and healthier choices, such as adding the label onto the front of packaging to make it even easier to see, having food vendors add green, yellow and red "stoplight" stickers, with green for the low-sugar products and red for the high-sugar ones, and promoting environmentally sustainable food practices such as consuming less meat and more plant-based foods.
© AFP/Relaxnews 2023