Does reading food labels at the grocery store sometimes feel like deciphering a foreign language? If you feel frustrated by the lack of transparency on pre-packaged foods, trust us when we say you definitely aren't alone. Thankfully, a recent law passed by the Food and Drug Administration will require manufacturers to start adding a breakdown of “added sugars” and “total sugar” to all pre-packaged food at your local supermarket. The new law is slated to go into effect on January 1, 2020.
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According to the FDA, the decision to update their guidelines is part of an overall effort to provide consumers with more detailed information about their food. “The current label is more than 20 years old,” says the FDA. “In order to make sure consumers have access to more recent and accurate nutrition information about the foods they are eating, it’s time to make changes to the Nutrition Facts label.”
These updates will help enable shoppers to make better decisions about what to buy — and what not to buy — based on their individual dietary needs. Too much added sugar
Marlyn Diaz, a registered nutritionist and wellness educator in Los Angeles, explains, “Natural sugars occurring in foods like fruits, vegetables and potatoes also have fiber in them, which helps to slow down the digestion and absorption of the sugar.”
When your body digests and absorbs sugar quickly (as with the high fructose corn syrup in soda), this can lead to serious spikes in blood sugar levels and cause you to experience the dreaded sugar crash — not to mention insulin resistance and high blood glucose in the long run.
Diaz also says that “added sugars contribute little or no nutrients and can lead to added weight gain or obesity, which can also ultimately affect heart health."
Although sugars that naturally occur in whole foods may be superior to added sugar, according to Diaz, the bottom line and key point to remember is: sugar is sugar. "Too much sugar — no matter where it comes from — can downgrade your health, cause you to put on weight and interfere with your overall well-being. Being mindful of total sugars eaten throughout the day is best practice and a key to better health,” she says.
The American Heart Association advises limiting your daily sugar intake to no more than 100 calories per day or 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women, and 150 calories or 9 teaspoons for men.
“Being mindful about how much sugar you bring into your body per meal and overall throughout the day is the key,” explains Diaz. “Opt to eat more whole foods with naturally occurring sugars. Be aware that there are over 50 names for added sugars. Be conscious of how much sugar you are consuming in a day.”
Some of the more obscure names for sugar include sucralose, anhydrous dextrose, fructose, dextrose, maltrose and high-fructose corn syrup. So it isn't much of a stretch to say that reading food labels can take a fair amount of detective work. But, if all goes according to plan, the new FDA regulations will greatly help the consumer.
In a statement on its website, the FDA notes that although updates to the label "will help increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in foods," the government administration acknowledges that "consumers may or may not decide to reduce the consumption of certain foods with added sugars, based on their individual needs or preferences.”
Still, Diaz thinks that the label update "is great news for consumers, as knowledge is power." She continues, "Food labeling has been misleading on many fronts, especially when it comes to sugars and added sugars. The more people know and understand about what goes into their food, the more they can make conscious choices that are better for their overall health and well-being.”
Amen to that.