The issue of added sugars — It's not going away

by Ron Sterk
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ORLANDO, FLA. — The issue of added sugars will have to be addressed as the likelihood of proposed Nutrition Facts Panel changes approaches in 2018, according to several speakers at the International Dairy Foods Association’s International Sweetener Colloquium on Feb. 9.

While most attendees at the colloquium think in terms of buying and selling raw or refined sugar, they should think in terms of buying and selling added sugar, said Randy Green, principal, Watson Green, L.L.C., who moderated a panel titled, “Added sugars: The Nutrition Facts Panel and beyond.” The issue isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, he said, and it will affect nutrition policy as well as ‘dollars and cents’ for the industry.

“Make plans, it will happen,” he said.

Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute of the Consumer Federation of America, said consumer groups tend to agree that current ingredient lists are not sufficient for consumers to determine the amount of added sugar in foods. He also said added sugar should be listed in teaspoons rather than grams because consumers understand the amount in a teaspoon.

Mr. Waldrop noted that the first reference to how much of a person’s energy intake should come from “sugary foods” was in a 1916 U.S.D.A. report, putting the amount at 10%. In the 1970s consumers were advised to reduce sugar to 15%, in the 1980s to “use less sugar” and in the 1990s to “use sugar in moderation,” he said. Added sugars have been addressed since 2000 in the dietary guidelines, but in more vague terms, he said. The dietary guidelines advisory committee will likely recommend for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines that added sugar not make up more than 10% of total caloric intake.

“We’ve come full circle (from 1916),” Mr. Waldrop said. “Consumers need sufficient and specific information to help them make good food choices.”

Mr. Waldrop noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimate children get 16% of their calories and adults get 13% of their calories from added sugars.

“Reducing added sugars from 16% to 10% could mean a material reduction in sugar demand,” Mr. Green said.

Michelle Albee Matto, principal, AM Food & Nutrition, noted that added sugar molecules are the same as natural sugar molecules, but just come from a different source, and that the 2005 Dietary Guidelines said a “small amount of added sugar can be useful” to make some foods more palatable.

“Do consumers understand what added sugar would mean on a label?” Ms. Matto asked, and added that testing can’t tell the difference between natural and added sugars in foods.

Ms. Matto said any inclusion or reference to caloric intake from sugar or added sugars in the Dietary Guidelines was significant because it was the basis for policy in government nutrition programs, such as school lunches, SNAP, WIC and others, even if the general public doesn’t follow the guidelines. She noted that as people react to nutrition panel labels (if and when changes are implemented) that include added sugar, consumers may turn to other foods that contained more fat, sodium or other ingredients that were considered less healthy.

Mr. Waldrop and Ms. Matto agreed that changes to labeling were a priority for the Obama administration.

“The Obama administration sees it as a legacy issue,” Ms. Matto said. She said it could be finalized by March 2016, followed by industry implementation two years later.
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