Putting Added Sugars Into Context for Consumers

By: Susan Mayne, Ph.D.

For two decades, consumers have been able to check the Nutrition Facts label to understand not only how much saturated fat, dietary fiber and sodium is in any given food, but how that amount fits in the context of their daily diet. Today, FDA proposes a supplemental rule that would provide consumers with access to that same information for added sugars. This would fill a gap by providing the same valuable content already available to consumers for other nutrients.

Susan MayneIn March 2014, FDA proposed to include the amount of added sugars in grams on the Nutrition Facts label but without the percent Daily Value, and we continue to review comments on this proposed rule. Now, in addition, we are proposing to include on the Nutrition Facts label the percent Daily Value (% DV) for added sugars and are accepting comments on this additional provision.

Why propose providing this additional information to consumers? Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), whose recommendations inform the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the foundation for national nutrition programs, standards and education, used the same data in the analysis for their recommendations earlier this year.

FDA considered the evidence and determined that it supports setting a Daily Value for added sugars. The Daily Value, which is used to calculate the percent Daily Value that consumers see on the Nutrition Facts label, would be 50 grams of added sugars for adults and children 4 years of age and older and 25 grams for children 1 through 3 years.

FDA’s initial proposal to include the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label is now further supported by newly reviewed studies suggesting healthy dietary patterns, including lower amounts of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, are strongly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Consumers can still choose foods that have added sugars as part of a healthy diet, but the proposed Daily Value would provide a benchmark for intake. Without information like this about a nutrient, it’s hard to know if you’re eating too much or too little in a given day. For example, a consumer who drinks a 20-ounce sugared beverage may be surprised to know it contains about 66 grams of added sugar, which would be listed on the label as 132 percent of the Daily Value.

We know that consumers may need some help getting used to this new information. Coming to FDA from outside of government with a background in public health nutrition, I have a great appreciation for the need to educate people to use the information we provide to them. I look forward to working with the nutrition community in this effort.

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is FDA’s Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Planning Healthy Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

When the Nutrition Facts Label was created in 1993, it was revolutionary. For the first time, consumers could read the nutrition information on a food package to know what was in it and that the information was held to government standards for consistency and accuracy. This rectangular box has since become one of the world’s most recognized graphics, with countries around the world adopting their own version.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.To continue the spirit and purpose of the Nutrition Facts Label, we are proposing important changes to bring it fully into the 21st century. A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Much more is known about food consumption and nutrition, the health of our population and the dietary choices that can help keep us healthy or make us vulnerable to an array of chronic diseases.

The changes that we’re proposing reflect that knowledge, based on an extensive examination of the latest public health trends and research on nutrition and disease, including obesity. There is a lot of information on FDA.gov about our plans, but I’d like to hit the highlights:

  • “Added sugars” would be listed on the label along with the current “Sugars” declaration (which includes both naturally occurring and added sugar). This alone is huge: The average American takes in many calories every day in sugars added during food production. Experts call these “empty calories” that often take the place of foods rich in nutrients.
  • Speaking of nutrients, listing the amount of Vitamin D and potassium – which many of us don’t get enough of – would be required. They would join calcium and iron as nutrients important to public health.
  • People generally eat differently today than they did 20 years ago. The serving size requirements would be updated to more accurately reflect what we’re actually eating. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what people “should” be eating.
  • Certain packages that are typically eaten in one sitting would be required to be labeled as a single serving, which would mean you would know how many calories and nutrients you are consuming for the whole package. For example, a 20-ounce soft drink would be one serving under the proposal, not more. Certain larger packages that could be consumed in one sitting or in multiple sittings would be required to be labeled per serving and per package.
  • While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • The format would be modernized. Calories and serving sizes would be displayed more prominently in larger, bold type. The %DV (daily value) would be moved to the left, so that you can immediately put a nutrient in the context of your daily dietary needs.

I’ve been asked if we’re proposing these changes because an increasing number of people in this country, including children, are obese and at risk of serious diseases tied to food consumption.

The answer is both no – and yes.

No, because the Nutrition Facts Label is for everyone. FDA does not regulate diets, but we can make sure that you know exactly what you’re eating. Having more information can enable you to make an educated decision about the foods you eat and serve your family.

Yes, because we know that too many people’s health is being compromised by the food they eat. This includes those at risk for serious disease like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, and obesity and all of us to wanting to have healthy diets can tell at a glance what is in a particular food.

As a consumer myself, I would find a Nutrition Facts Label that reflects the current science very helpful when making food choices for myself and my family. These changes should make it easier than ever to judge a food by its label.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.