Monday, January 18, 2016

Declaration of "added" sugar on the label of packaged foods -What are the implications?

Rightly or wrongly white sugar has been considered as one of the culprits responsible for some of the worst life style disorders including diabetes and obesity. Though there is no unanimity as to the minimum daily need for sugar in human beings, the fact is that it is a major contributor of calories directly or indirectly through both added sugar as well as derived sugar from carbohydrates consumed as a part of the diet. It is more or less agreed that there is a significant difference between empty calories as represented by sugar, HFCS and refined carbohydrates and nutrient dense calorie sources like sugars present in fruits, whole grains, legumes and other natural foods.  Therefore making a distinction between added sugar by the manufacturers during processing and naturally present sugar makes eminent sense. Presence of about 50 grams of added sugar in the food we consume daily is considered harmless by many health experts and therefore asking the industry to make declaration about it in the label will help the consumer to exercise better discretion regarding the purchase of processed foods. This issue is now coming to the fore and whether the industry will voluntarily agree to this just demand remains to be seen. Here is a take on this new development in the labeling area and its implications on consumer well being. 

"Americans have a sweet tooth, and the obesity and diabetes rates to prove it. The best way to help people eat less sugar is to let them know how much of it is in their foods. Yet a sensible plan to inform consumers about the amount of sugar added to packaged products is under fire from the food industry and politicians. The Food and Drug Administration should stand strong and stick with the plan when it issues its final rules later this year. The FDA has proposed requiring a new line in the nutrition label for "added sugars"— just below the line for total sugar. The label may also specify how much of the recommended daily allowance of added sugars the product contains, out of a maximum of roughly 12 teaspoons. Added sugar deserves a line of its own because it's empty calories. Many nutritious products contain natural sugars: A cup of cherries or grapes can have more than 15 grams, and a cup of 1 per cent milk has 13 grams. Yet this sugar comes along with essential nutrients; that glass of milk contains 16 per cent of the protein a healthy adult needs each day, and 30 per cent of the calcium. In contrast, refined cane sugar, corn syrup and the like that are added to foods and drinks during processing (also called "free sugars") offer no additional nutrients. Americans now get about 13 per cent of their daily calories from them, largely through soda and other beverages, breakfast cereals and frozen desserts. A can of Coca-Cola has more than 9 teaspoons (39 grams) of added sugars. But even products not considered sweet contain them; a tablespoon of ketchup has about 4 grams. A study of 80,000 products on supermarket shelves found that 58 per cent contained added sugar. And while total US consumption has declined in recent years, only 30 per cent of Americans eat less added sugar than the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend. The food industry has three objections to the labelling requirement. The first is that Americans won't know what to make of the information about added sugar. That may be true, but neither were many Americans familiar with trans fats when they were added to nutrition labels in 2006. And since that rule was passed, thanks also to greater media attention and information campaigns, people cut their consumption of trans fats by more than 75 per cent. (Last year the FDA decided to ban them altogether.) In any case, if most consumers won't pay attention, what do food manufacturers stand to lose from the disclosure? Food makers also argue that the science suggesting that added sugars should be limited is not settled. And it's true there's not a lot of good data on added sugar's connection to health problems. But there's significant evidence that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked with obesity. And after reviewing the evidence on added sugars, the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found there was a strong correlation with diabetes and obesity, and a moderate correlation with hypertension, stroke and dental problems. Finally, food makers object that almost all packaged-food labels already list added sugars. That's technically true, but the industry engages in all sorts of tricks to hide them, for example by including several different types in a single product so that they appear as low as possible in the ingredients list, which is organized by weight in descending order."

It appears the food safety authorities in the US are considering revamping of the present label content on packaged foods so as to include a provision to declare how much sugar has been added by the manufacturer. This hopefully will make the consumers aware of the same for better selection of products during their visit to the market. The logic is that consumers would shy away from those products containing high levels of sugar prompting the industry to modify the product formulations to reduce added sugar. However such an exercise will have no meaning if the consumers are not informed as to the maximum daily sugar intake that is ideal from the health angle. The highly hostile reaction by the industry can be understood because of the challenge thrown at them to come up with products containing less and less sugar. But in the interest of the well being of the consumer. Industry must fall in line if it has to overcome the trust deficit that is evident to day. Afterall the present technological base is so strong that there is nothing which cannot be accomplished and reformulation of many sugar containing products to reduce the added sugar will not be a major technical problem. One uncertainty is how the regulators can distinguish between natural sugar and added sugar in a product when it comes to regulatory protocols. This issue needs to be considered more carefully before making such label changes mandatory.  

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