We are that much closer to the new food labels featuring added sugars, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration announcement on Friday. In typical FDA tradition, the changes won't kick in for some time: July 26, 2018 is the ultimate deadline for most businesses; July 2019 for small businesses with fewer than $10 million in annual sales. When you combine the FDA ruling on trans fats, the last half of 2018 will be as close to mecca as the U.S. food supply might get.
The best news from Friday's announcement was that nothing got messed up. No last-minute changes. No "hey let's do teaspoons instead of grams." What was promised is what we will get, something you don't always get from the alphabet soup that is department agencies.
Added sugars is the area to circle for improvement. The label is clear of the added sugars within the sugars category: this will be really useful of yogurt with fruit. That product contains milk sugars and fruit sugars as well as added sugars. You will finally get a breakdown of the extra sugars in that product. Before, we were clueless.
The word "includes" is the only major change from the proposed food label change. This is a positive note to help draw attention and not confuse consumers who might wonder if the added sugars are extra beyond total sugars (they aren't).
The other nice touch is we finally get a percentage breakdown of added sugars as far as how much we should have in a day. A treat of 20% of a day's requirement of added sugars is a treat; 130% of a day's added sugars isn't so much of a treat as it is more sugar that your body doesn't need.
The ideal hope, though likely a pipe dream: food manufacturers will work to reduce or eliminate the prevalence of high-fructose corn syrup in foods, especially in ones that aren't normally sweet (e.g., hot dog buns). A bright light will be shined on high-fructose corn syrup for the first time ever. And the percentages could give food manufacturers incentive to not substitute sugar for high-fructose corn syrup to distract us (though sugar is better than high-fructose corn syrup). Again, this is a pipe dream, but I know I'm not the only one.
Added sugars isn't the only big change on the labels. Serving sizes will be changed to reflect what consumers actually eat. FDA said about 20% of all package labels will be adjusted. This is related to added sugars in the sense that consumers will have to do less math to understand how much sugars they are consuming.
I confess to preferring the way Europe does their serving sizes by "per 100 g" since that makes the sizes uniform. Food companies get to pick their serving sizes; if you've been in a grocery aisle comparing cereals, you know that headache.
One thing that will be missing from the new food labels is "calories from fat" since the type of fat is more important than the amount, according to the FDA. A minor loss, but we'll take it for what we do get.
We lose the overall breakdown of what people should consume in terms of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and carbohydrates, but we do get a breakdown of the actual amount of Vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. The overall guidelines were useful to remind you of where this food would help in the overall day, but if you worry about this less, you might concentrate on enjoying food.
It does seem like if we want people to relax about food the way Europeans do, using more European style information would help. You often see on European labels a breakdown in percentages of what is in the container. U.S. labels rank foods by the amount but that isn't enough to determine how much of a food is inside. For example, if high-fructose corn syrup is the 2nd-largest ingredient in a food, is that amount 40% or 20%? Shouldn't we know that?
The overall food label changes are giant steps ahead of where we were but the ideal is light years away.
graphic credit: FDA.gov